In honor of the Year of St Paul, the people at St Irenaeus Ministries have been posting audio lectures on St Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians. The lectures on 1 Corinthians were completed a few weeks ago and there are now 6 lectures up on the second letter. St Irenaeus Ministries sits like a pearl in the cesspool that is the Diocese of Rochester, NY. Here are the blurbs on those podcasts:
1. The Beginning of Second Corinthians: In order to properly understand Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthian Church, one must bear in mind a number of items. Chronologically, it is likely that the Second epistle was written just months after the First. An exceedingly intriguing epistle, it showcases Paul’s life and personality in a way unparalleled among his other works.
One can only imagine the rapped attention with which the Corinthian Church listened to Paul’s second letter. He divides his message into three parts after a brief introduction: he covers a myriad of points in the first, the topic of collections for the widows and orphans of Jerusalem in the second, and the presence of false Apostles in the third.
Some scholars question whether or not Paul composed this epistle as a united document, or if it is a composite of two separate epistles. Their suppositions are in response to the marked differences in tone that exists between the first nine and the last four chapters, although these arguments may not be as strong as some contemporary Biblical scholarship would have one believe.
2. Suffering and Christ’s Comforts: Paul establishes both his apostolic leadership and the Church’s universality in the first verse of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians. What he writes to Corinth will be read not only in that city, but also in the various churches throughout Achaia.
The second item within the epistle is a prayer of thanksgiving and an exposition of physical suffering, the comforts Christ provides, and the comfort and compassion present among Christians. Genuine Christian life is one of plentiful crosses and frequent tribulations, for these sufferings are a requisite for entrance into the Kingdom (cf. Mark 8:35, Acts 14:22, 1 Pt 5:9). Suffering conforms one to the life of Christ more than any other spiritual exercise and deepens the bonds of true fellowship within the Church.
Using testimony from his apostolic travels, he reveals the comfort of Christ in the midst of extreme trial by stating, ”For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (v. 8-9). Possibly the riot in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:24 ff.), Paul’s response to the event here mentioned is instructive for every reader.
Second Corinthians is an exceedingly noteworthy epistle that is often overlooked or merely skimmed. If the spiritual implications of this letter do not challenge the Christian, it is likely he is not reading the text with any proper, prayerful depth.
3. Pastoring the Corinthians: Though the constitution of the Church cannot change, the Corinthian church is extraordinarily different than the average American parish. An community of converts founded by Paul himself, the factionalism among those Christians in this multicultural trade hub presented the apostle, Timothy, and Titus with a series of daunting pastoral challenges.
The first chapter of Second Corinthians contains many doctrinal nuggets amidst Paul’s response to chaotic situations. One should note contextually that Paul wrote a total of four letters to the Corinthian Church. Additionally, one must bear in mind that Paul traveled north to the Troas in order to determine the outcome of Titus’ mission to Corinth.
Paul’s religious language is not rhetoric, it is the truth expressed through tough love. He explains his reason for the delay in coming to the Corinthianchurch by way of Macedonia. Seeking to establish his credibility through precise, direct language that is neither flowery nor verbose (at least not for one with a rabbinical education). Although heresy, wild immorality and revolt are almost certainly not the issues Paul addresses here, he is nonetheless a father addressing important issues within his family. He addresses them with a clear conscience, reminding them that he is proud of them and never toiled among them for selfish reasons, perhaps in response to criticisms laid against him.Paul did not change his mind and postpone his visit to Corinth for any selfish or mixed motives. He knows that the promises of God are absolute and that he who serves Him must have the same integrity. Never one to vacillate on ‘’yes and no,’’ his ‘’yes’’ holds the full weight of an ‘’Amen’’ before God Himself.Finalizing his argument of his apostolic credibility, he states, ‘’But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us; he has put his seal upon usand given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. But I call God to witness against me–it was to spare you that I refrained from coming to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith’’ (v. 21-24).
4. Chapter 2: Paul transitions from the first to the second chapter of Second Corinthians by finalizing his account of the pastoral role he has as an apostle. Masterfully illustrated by his actions, the Godly pastor is one who ever acts with the mind, heart and soul of Christ Himself. Even while conducting administrative endeavors like payroll and paperwork, a pastor of God keeps the divine purpose of his life in mind. True pastors neither lord their power over a flock nor negligently allow their flock to go astray. One does well to be mindful of the many tears and toils Paul endured for his beloved congregations, but also bear in mind his words “If anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure–not to put it too severely–to you all” (v. 5).
The way Paul addresses pastoral issues seems wholly superior to the modern approach seen in many Catholic parishes: the former is the highest outpouring of earnest love and patient instruction, while the latter tends to be predominantly bureaucratic and lacking a personal touch. After dealing with a pastoral problem, Paul goes further to completely eradicates the source so that Satan may not have a foothold.
He writes, ”For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (v. 15-16). Paul then contrasts himself with those whom he calls ”peddlers” or ”swindlers” of God’s word. Never watering down or altering the message of the Gospel, his words indict all types of unworthy ministry and those who participate in it. Truly, any religious minister who does not tremble before the Word of God is a sham and will suffer harshly under the judgment of God.
5. Covenant, Law, and Life in the Spirit: Paul discusses two main ideas in chapter three. First, he discusses the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Second, he explains the principle of living in the spirit.
The dynamic church of Corinth contains bona fide Christians with numerous spiritual gifts, however troublesome they may be for Paul. Analyzing his interaction with the community illuminates at least twelve items worthy of reflection:
A minister must be: sincere, faithful and holy as God is holy; a firm leader without being a tyrant; willing to serve sacrificially; ever see his parishioners as the children of God; one who cares and loves sincerely like a good parent loves his child; one who exhibits transparent sincerity in all respects; one who is able to be true to his word; one who speaks the truth in love; one who is willing to appropriately confront the difficulties with people; one who never gives up on the responsibilities of his divine orders; one who does not allow his integrity to be derided by gossip or dissenters; one who does not change or diminish the Word of God for any reason.
The vocation of a pastor is far more than a 9-5 job, but a holy order that demands no less than his entire life. Further, Christians who continue to accept weak or lazy leadership from their ministers are negligent, cheating themselves and the larger Church from receiving true pastors.
Chapter three begins with Paul explaining that he has no need to provide a letter of his credentials, for ”You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your [our] hearts, to be known and read by all men and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (v. 2-3). One does well to confer this with the covenental prophesies of Jeremiah 31:31 and Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26. God’s grace alone will enable one to keep a covenant.
Paul knows that he must minister as purely as Christ does and that it is only through grace that he can do this. His confidence in and reliance on the Spirit of the Living God is striking.
The New Testament is the Word of God, but Paul knows that ”the written code [by itself] kills, but the Spirit gives life” (v. 6) because knowledge of God is not sufficient to save unless it is lived through love, worship, and witness. The content of the Law combined with the sacraments of Jesus Christ is the abundant channel of grace offered to the modern Christians, far more abundant than those who lived only under the Old Covenant.
Lest one think that Paul is an antinomian, he says ”the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12). Inasmuch as the law explicates God, it is worthwhile, but it is not strong enough to carry one to salvation unless it is accompanied by a life in the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Glory of God: The all-holy glory of our Triune God is weighty and substantial, never ”fluffy.” To illustrate this, one can look to Moses’ veiled, radiant face after having seen God’s glory. Paul takes up this image of veils and radiant glory in chapter three. He also contrasts the ”dispensation of death” with the ”dispensation of the Spirit” (v. 7-8). What is passing away contains an ephemeral glory, but what abides is situated in a glory that is eternal (cf. v. 11). In this, Paul does not wish to abolish the old covenant, but fulfill it with the Gospel of Christ.
He writes, ”Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor” (v. 12) and ”Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (v. 17). Powerfully, ”And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (v. 18). He then explains that this ministry strives to be wholly centered on the glory of God, unveiled and holy.
As any faithful minister, Paul carries within his body the death of Jesus so that he might bring life to his flock.”For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (v. 15). This invisible glory manifests itself in faith, hope and charity. Paul is impatient to move towards a more substantive epoch: eternity.
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