2 Corinthians

Jump to chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Chapter 1

(1-2) It was according to my will and purpose that Paul, together with his apprentice Timothy, wrote again to the believers in Corinth and indeed the whole region. Although this is second Corinthians in the New Testament, it is actually the fourth letter Paul wrote to them. He sent his letter with the blessings of my grace and peace.

(3-4) Beloved, I am the wellspring of mercy and the God of all comfort. In seasons of pain and sorrow, I am with you to comfort you, a balm for your wounds. In light of my mercy toward you, I want you to comfort one another. Show compassion for those in pain with the same compassion that I give to you.

(5-7) When you suffer, remember that my Son also suffered, yet his comfort is also your comfort, because you are in perfect union with him. Let pain remind you that you still live in a fallen world, yet let others see your hopeful perseverance so that they might see the good news of my Son embodied in how you live. Both your pain and your comfort are a reminder of my advancing kingdom. Everyone feels the sting of suffering and longs for relief. Let them see your hope in me, whether in peace or affliction.

(8-10) Paul told the Corinthian believers of the affliction he suffered while evangelizing in Asia. He was certain he would die, hopeless to save himself. Nevertheless, it was not Paul’s strength, but mine, that mattered. I alone possess the power to bring the dead to life. I repeatedly delivered Paul from certain death. Beloved, learn from Paul. In your despair, trust in me. Whether in life or death, salvation comes from me.

(11) One of the best ways that you can share in one another’s burdens is through prayer. Talk with me about the afflictions in the world while offering me thanks for the salvation that comes through my Son.

(12-14) Beloved, let your manner of life be humble, simple, and sincere. Be a conduit of my grace. Live by heaven’s wisdom, which is other-centeredness and Christ-like love. Look for these traits in others too. Talk to me about the goodness, love, and peace you see in others, knowing that they are also praying on your behalf.

(15-16) Paul was a great example of this love. You see it in his interactions with the churches. He longed to be present both with me and with the churches he helped to establish. Communities of true love and support are a gift of grace, reflecting the way I intended life to be, yet circumstances often prevent being together.

(17-20) When you are self-centered, your intentions may vacillate, saying one thing and its opposite simultaneously. By faith in me, you can live with faithfulness to my intent, not wavering, but consistent with my Spirit in you. You can always say yes to love, grace, and mercy. In my Son, the answer is always yes when it comes to the question of love. All goodness, truth, and beauty find their answers in him. Rest in the affirmation that only I can offer, through my Son and by my Spirit.

(21-22) I have signed your citizenship papers for my kingdom. Your status as my “beloved” is irrevocable in Jesus. You are sealed and empowered by my Spirit.

(23-24) Yet even being apart can serve my kingdom purposes. In Paul’s case, I kept him from returning in anger to Corinth. He took the opportunity instead to pray for a truly joyous faith.

Chapter 2

(1-3) Although Paul had a relationship with the Corinthians—indeed a deep affection for them—he made the intentional choice not to visit because it would cause pain to both Paul and the church. Although Paul had hard things to tell them, he was aware that his physical presence could hurt them and that their response to him could also lead to his own pain, so he chose to set a boundary and write a letter instead. He understood that underneath these present hurts, there was a deeper, eternal love between them.

(4) In writing the letter, he pressed into his pain in order to communicate his love. Beloved, do not avoid hard conversations. I know there are topics with others that you would rather avoid altogether, but in love, and with great humility, press into your discomfort. Love endures the pain of conflict for the sake of the other.

(5-8) One person’s pain is rarely isolated to them but affects others because people are interconnected. The Corinthians had disciplined one of their own on Paul’s recommendation,[1] but as they continued isolating and shaming him, it caused great pain not only to the one whom they excluded, but indeed to all of the congregation. Paul asked them to “reaffirm their love” for the man. Too often, beloved, discipline is a tool of disintegration and divisiveness and not a sign of love. Always let love be your goal.

(9) Human motives are mixed and intentions impure. Paul wrote to the church to encourage their obedience to his counsel once again. No one, other than my Son, has been perfectly obedient; when you act as if you are, it is prideful self-deception, which is deeply harmful.

(10-11) Actively seek opportunities to forgive, love, and—when appropriate—reconcile. Forgiveness is the way of my Son. Divisiveness is the way of Satan and he loves to stir up conflict by fanning the flames of self-righteousness.

(12-13) Paul loved the church because he loved the people that made up the church. You cannot love the church while hating its members. Consider this: when Paul had gone to Troas, I opened a clear path for him to preach the good news, but he was distracted because he could not find his beloved brother and protégé Titus, so he left.

Paul did not sin in leaving Troas even though my Spirit had opened a door for the good news there. Had he stayed, I would have loved him no more, and in leaving, I loved him no less.

(14-17) Your path is always paved by my Son’s gracious presence. When you are living in the reality of my kingdom everywhere you go, you exude the aroma of love. Some will find this to be inviting and sweet whereas others will find it noxious; for one person it is life and for another it is death.

The aroma of Christ is not produced by your power, charisma, or persuasion, but by Christ in you. Get rid of your god-words and false righteousness and instead, live with sincerity and authenticity, knowing that my Spirit is alive in you. Listen to him and speak boldly.

Chapter 3

(1-3) Beloved, your reputation as my ambassador is not based on things that have been said about you. Rather, it is my Spirit’s work through you that commends you. My image bearers are intimately interconnected and it is in your relationships with one another that my work is most clearly seen. 

(4-6) Live with bold confidence because of the freedom my Son bought for you. The Spirit’s power is alive in you at every step. Your strength is not a product of your discipline, your intellect, or your reputation, but my work in you. You are sufficient because of me. You are an ambassador of the new covenant, so tell people about the peace and freedom that are found in my Son. He is life; rule following is a dead-end road.

(7-11) When I gave the law to the Israelites through Moses, I myself carved the words of the law on tablets of stone, but the people were crushed by the weight of the law. No one could measure up.[2] When Moses descended from Sinai, the people could not even look at him because my glory still surrounded him, yet almost immediately, that glory faded. How much more glorious is the light of my Spirit, illumined by my Son? The flame of old covenant glory has been extinguished, just as I intended, because the glory of the new covenant, ushered in by my Son has far surpassed it. It is like comparing a single candle to the light of a thousand suns, a glory that will never dim or fade.

(12-16) As a possessor of my unfading light, live with freedom and boldness. Moses wore a veil, disguising the truth that the old covenant glory was fading. Yet even today, some with hardened minds insist on living by the old covenant rule keeping and Moses’s veil remains firmly in place. People who try to make their way toward me by rigorous rule keeping do not realize that the light of the law has gone out, replaced by my Son’s true and pure luminosity. When you truly seek me, through my Son, the veil is taken away and you can see freely and fully.

(17-18) Beloved, my Spirit who dwells within and around you is my very presence, not merely an angelic servant. I, the Lord and Creator of all that was, is, and ever will be, am constantly present with you and where I am…hear me…where I am, there is freedom. Come out of hiding. Take off the masks that you think hide the darkness within and live with bold confidence in the freedom that only I can bring. Rumi, a 17th century poet, wrote “Take off your mask, your face is glorious.”[3] That radiance that shines from within comes from me. Dance in the light of my glory. Celebrate the transforming power of my Spirit as your life begins to look more and more like my Son. My beloved servant Irenaeus wrote “The glory of God is person fully alive.”[4] That is exactly right. My Spirit is making you alive, transforming you day by day as you become more and more glorious, which is evidence of Christ in you. All of this, beloved, comes from my Spirit in you.

Chapter 4

(1-2) Beloved, do not lose heart. In my mercy, I have called you to be a light in a dark world. Give up unloving, manipulative methods for dealing with people. Too many people have twisted my word to take advantage of the vulnerable and downtrodden. Do not practice those underhanded strategies. Rather, speak truthfully about who I am and who you are. Let your honesty be your commendation.

(3-4) There will still be those who cannot understand my love and mercy; they are blind not because of the gospel message itself, but because evil has distorted their vision and they are unable to see the truth of my grace and mercy, which is revealed completely in my Son.

(5-6) Continue pointing to my Son and serve one another for his sake. That will be commendation enough. In a darkened world, let the light of my Spirit shine as I commanded from the beginning.[5] The pure light of my Son in you is my glory.

(7-12) You have infinite treasure—the light of my love—stored up in clay pots; heavenly beauty held within the stuff of earth, imperfections and all. Transformation comes because of my life in you. The stresses of life may leave you feeling battered and bruised, but my Son’s life in you means you will not be destroyed. In your suffering, be reminded of his death, but never lose sight of his Spirit in you, which is true life. Let every bit of pain, fatigue, and brokenness serve as a reminder of the life I have given you. Death and disintegration may be present in your day to day life, but that is not your core identity. Your core identity is secured in my Son.

(13-14) I want you to have the same heart of trust that you see in Paul, David, Abraham, and all the saints. Let your words flow out of what you have come to believe. You know at your core that my Son was raised from death to life, and because you believe in his resurrection, trust that I will also raise you from death to eternal life lived in union with the Trinity.

(15) Live in light of this reality. Allow the grace that fills you to flow out of you, trusting that that it comes from a never ending fountain. As people witness the abundance of my grace, they will be filled with thanksgiving for my Son’s glorious gift.

(16-18) Do not lose heart, beloved. Though time takes its toll on your earthly body, that earthen vessel is not your whole self. Your inner self, in union with my Son, is being constantly refreshed by my Spirit. The wounds you receive are but a moment’s affliction, yet they are preparing you even more for witnessing eternal glory. Descent into the valley of the shadow of death[6] prepares your heart for the dawning of my Spirit’s pure light, a light beyond compare. Keep hoping for my Son’s appearing. Darkness is transient, but the dawning light of my coming kingdom is forevermore.

Chapter 5

(1-3)  Beloved, your body—what Paul called your “tent”—is subject to the disintegrating effects of age, disease, and injury, but even when it is completely destroyed, you are not, because your Self is not merely your body. Each of your aches and pains intensifies your longing for your heavenly dwelling, clothed by my Spirit.

(4-5) The unwholeness you feel does not mean that you should be unclothed and lifeless, but that you might be clothed with completeness.  Let death and disintegration be swallowed up by life and light…exactly the way I created you to be. I have been preparing you for true life, and my Spirit, who dwells in you, is a seal of my promise.

(6-8) Have courage and freedom in how you live. While you live in your mortal body, you may be away from my physical presence, but keep in mind what awaits you. Let my Spirit remind you of what is true. I know you long to be with me, not only spiritually, but in physical union, but regardless of where I have you, be courageous.

(9-10) No matter where you are, present in your earthly body or fully present with me in your indestructible body, live for me and with me. One day, everyone will appear before my Son, receiving their due for what was done in their mortal body. Understand, beloved, that nothing negates the finished work of my Son, but you still have the choice to live toward wholeness or toward disintegration every day of your life.

(11) Allow your knowledge of my glory and majesty be a motivation to spread the good news; there is nothing more magnificent than Trinitarian glory.

(12-13) Even though you know me, I know you at an infinitely deeper level. Because I know everything about you, you are free to be seen and known by others. You do not need to focus on your outward appearance. Instead get to know your true self, which bears love’s signature. If you are whimsical and playful, let it be because of your joy in me. If you are reasonable and wise, let it be a motivation to love others.

(14-15) Let my Son’s love always be your driving passion. In his death, everyone died, but do not stop at his death. Allow his sacrifice to stir you to love and other-centeredness, which is true worship.

(16-18a) Just like you, most people act and relate from their false selves, but do not pass judgment on them, because that is not who they truly are. When Jesus lived among his disciples, they marveled at the life within him, but when he was resurrected, their eyes were opened even further to what true life with me will be like. Because of your union with my Son, you are a brand-new creation. Your old self, ruled by the sinful passion of self-centeredness, is not who you are anymore. Although it may not seem that way, you already are your new self, redeemed and reconciled by my Son’s blood.

(18b-20) Having been reconciled to me, I have prepared you for the ministry of reconciliation. My Son’s death canceled humanity’s debt and through ambassadors like you, he is reconciling the world to himself. In my Son, I do not count your sins against you. Period. Carry the message of forgiveness and reconciliation with you as you go, because that is precisely what the world needs to hear. Do not withhold grace.

(21) Help people to understand what theologians have called “the great exchange.”[7] It is for your sake, beloved, that I made my Son to become sin, even though he had never sinned, so that in him, you would be possessed by his perfect righteousness.

Chapter 6

(1-2) Beloved, carry the love of my Son in your heart, understanding that his grace is not limited to salvation alone, but goes before you, stands next to you, and follows behind you. As Dallas Willard said, “The true saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on takeoff.”[8] It is vanity to believe you can make yourself whole. I am a God who listens and helps, not only yesterday, but right now. Your salvation was not an infusion of my Son’s grace for a single moment in time, but in every moment, you are a recipient of my benevolence. Any time is the perfect time to appeal to my grace and mercy.

(3) Do not put an obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no one may criticize or blame your kingdom work.

(4-10) Regardless of what is going on in your life, be my ambassador. Act in love no matter what is happening in and around you. Be a beacon of hope in pain, suffering, hardship, affliction, and unrest. Let people see in you a pure heart, knowledge, patience, kindness, and genuine love that comes only by my Spirit. Speak truthfully and without qualification, knowing that my Spirit dwells in you. Guard yourself with holiness and wholeness on every side. Seek to live an integrated life whether you are honored or dishonored, slandered or praised, rejected as a liar or accepted as a truth bringer, living or dying, in punishment, sorrow, or loss. Keep hoping even when everything when everything seems lost for my sake.

(11-13) Speak freely. Hold nothing back. Do not let your reluctance to show affection be the reason others hold back. Rather open your heart so that they may feel the freedom to open theirs.

(14-18) Paul’s words in verse 14 are often used as a caution against believers marrying non-believers, but the context never mentions marriage. My caution, beloved, is to be aware of the difficulty and even pain that can arise when people are obligated to one another in some way—marriage or business, for example—but their worldviews take them in different directions. Righteousness and lawlessness are mutually exclusive. Darkness is the absence of light. Christ, the worthy one, does not toy with Belial, the worthless one. Believers and unbelievers are walking different paths. Idols should have no place where I dwell, and I dwell within you. Your body is my temple. Listen closely, dear child, for this is true:

I make my home among you and walk with you.
I am your God.
You are my people.
Do not continue going the way of the world, where the path diverges.
Follow my way instead.
Seek purity and wholeness.
You will find me there.
I am your Father who loves you,
and you are my children.[9]

Chapter 7

(1) Beloved, because my promises are true, seek integration through holy living. Rid yourselves of things that poison your soul. Instead, seek the completion that only I can provide.

(2-3) Live in such a way that your life is unimpeachable. Do not wrong anyone, corrupt anyone, or take advantage of anyone, so that no one can hold anything against you. Seek unity and love with fellow believers and not condemnation.

(4) Love boldly. Do not withhold your affections from others, afraid they will get a big head. Tell them when you are proud. Comfort them when they are weary and allow them to comfort you. Even in pain, remember my joy.

(5-7) Paul told the Corinthian believers about the great battles he faced. He was a bold advocate for my Son, but that did not mean he was unafraid. He relied heavily upon the comfort of my Spirit as well as that of his beloved friend Titus. Titus and Paul talked about everything happening in the churches, which encouraged Paul, because he saw my Spirit at work as the Corinthians felt sorrow over their sin and a longing for holiness.

(8-9) Confronting others can be scary, but if the outcome glorifies me, it is worth taking the risk. After Paul had corrected the Corinthians, he second guessed his tone, but ultimately, his doubts faded, because his exhortation led them to repentance.

(10-11) There are considerable differences between godly grief and worldly grief. Godly grief, which results from guilt over sin, leads you to turn back toward holiness. You feel the sting of sin, so in your sorrow, you turn back to the wholeness that is only found in me. On the other hand, worldly grief, which does not come from guilt but from toxic shame tells you that you are bad. It is focused upon identity rather than behavior. With this kind of shame, you have forgotten your belovedness. Godly grief leads toward wholeness; worldly grief is spirit crushing. Fight for wholeness. Zealously pursue truth. When you get knocked down, get up. Do the hard work to seek purity.

(12) Paul wanted the Corinthian church to understand what pursuing righteousness was all about. He was less concerned about who sinned and who suffered than he was about helping the church to see that they were living their lives “coram deo”—before the face of God, just as you do.

(13-16) Paul also knew the comfort that comes from union with me and communion with like-minded others. Seeing Titus’s excitement and joy was soul food for Paul. Paul had spoken proudly and hopefully about the hearts of the Corinthian believers, and Titus found them just as Paul had indicated. When Titus found Paul’s impressions to be accurate, he too was filled with joy at seeing the repentant Corinthians. Beloved it is good to hope in your fellow believers as they seek wholeness and holiness. Even when they stumble and fall, encourage and love them, rejoicing at their journey as they rejoice at yours.

Chapter 8  

(1-5) Consider the grace and generosity of the Macedonian believers. At a time when Paul was deeply afflicted, they were generous, even beyond their meager means, eager to serve the needs of other believers. They went so far as to beg Paul for the privilege of giving—first to me and then, by my will, to other churches. Beloved, consider their example. Generosity fertilizes joy.

(6-7) Generosity is not only about material giving, but charity in speech, knowledge, sincerity, and love. Allow each of these graces to flow out from you, seeking the joy and wholeness that comes with other-centered living.

(8-9) True generosity does not come from compulsion, but from a heart gripped by my love. When you know that you are truly loved, you cannot help but love in response. Consider my Son. He possessed all the riches of heaven and earth, yet the treasure of loving humankind was worth setting all of that aside. His condescension was necessary for your welcome.

(10-11) Persist in love and generosity. The Macedonian believers persevered in the faith even after their initial excitement wore off. They kept at it until the work was done.

(12-15) Give what you are able and ready to give. If you feel pressured to give because it is expected, then do not give. I am not asking that you throw yourself into poverty while others become rich; rather, from your abundance, do not neglect those who are living in lean years, never forgetting that you are all a part of the same family. Seek equity. Remember my provision of manna in the wilderness— “Those who took up much had none left over, while those who gathered just a little did not go hungry.”[10]

(16-23) Learn from Titus, who gave his time, talent, and possessions for the sake of my kingdom. He carried Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, together with another one of my servants. As these men ministered, they brought with them the message of grace and mercy, yet they also brought good will blessings, ministering to both physical and spiritual needs. As an ambassador in my kingdom, be generous in all these things so that no one may hold anything against me because of your character. Live honorably before me and before others. These young evangelists, sent by me, were known for their enthusiasm and hard work, which glorifies me.

(24) Give proof of your love by being generous with your words and actions.

Chapter 9

(1-5) Paul had been boasting about the generosity of the Corinthian church. They were eager to give, yet Paul sent his friends on ahead to make sure everything was in place and that he had not read them wrong. If Paul had boasted of their generosity, but then found them to be otherwise, he would have felt humiliated for having been so confident in them.

It is wise to check in with one another, seeking to encourage each other. Different influences can lead to mixed motivations. Checking in with each other helps you to stay focused on what is truly important.

(6-7) Understand this, beloved: stinginess begets stinginess whereas generosity begets generosity. I make no demands on how generous you ought to be, you must decide that for yourself; however, when you give, I want you to do so with a cheerful heart.

(8-11) Consider my generosity toward you. I am not miserly with my grace, but I give it lavishly regardless of your circumstances so that you are equipped for the good work to which I have called you. The goodness of my people is seen in their generosity toward everyone and especially in their gifts to the poor. Charity is a mark of my grace working in and through you. Do not hold back. I will honor your kingdom work. What you give away, I will multiply back to you, perhaps not monetarily, but in things that really matter, your wholeness and joy.

(12-15) Your ministry of service is not only to meet the material needs of others, it fertilizes thanksgiving, which brings me glory. Charity is connected with life in the kingdom, a physical manifestation of the reality of grace in your life and in the lives of others. True generosity leads to increased affection between you and me as well as you and others. Let your life be marked by grace, generosity, and thanksgiving in all things.

Chapter 10

(1-6) Paul had a reputation for meekness and gentleness, clear evidence of my Son in him, yet he was bold when it came to confronting sin. Beloved, I want you also to be bold, calling others to live by my Spirit. You cannot defeat sin and addiction on your own because it is a heart issue as much as it is a physical issue. When you go to battle against sin, do not forget about my Spirit. He is before you, behind you, and within you. He surrounds you on every side. Sinful thoughts will seek to lead you away from truth. Therefore, cling to my truth, which is one of the best defenses against sinful disintegration. Talk to me about what you are thinking and keep turning back to me when you have lost your way.

(7-8) Paul often found himself in the position of having to defend his ministry. He was not one of my Son’s original twelve apostles, yet he was called by my Son. He wrote, “If you are confident you belong to Jesus, know that I and my companions are too.” He was unapologetic about his ministry of building up the churches by teaching them and exhorting them in the knowledge of my Son.

(9-11) Some people were intimidated by Paul’s strongly worded letters, yet instilling fear was never his intent. Rather, he was passionate for godly living. The people were challenging his correspondence, because it seemed that when he was with them, he was much milder. Paul wanted them to know that his convictions did not change whether he was with them or away from them. Let your core beliefs be constant regardless of circumstance. Consistency of character is integrity.

(12) Your standard of comparison must not be other believers, but Christ. People often highlight their own apparent righteousness and success, but too often, they are basing their judgments upon worldly standards for success. But your standard is not larger churches or more successful Christians, but Christ. Pursue his standard of love.

(13-16) Paul never boasted in himself, but rather in my power working through him. My Spirit enabled Paul to bring the good news to many places including Corinth, which is why Paul felt the authority to write boldly to them. He was the first person to bring the gospel there, though he had no desire to dismiss the formative influences of other missionaries. He only wanted them to acknowledge that he played an essential role in the early Corinthian church. He also wanted to continue to minister beyond Corinth, yet he knew that to do so, he would need to support of the Corinthian believers.

Beloved, many Christians have a positive influence for my kingdom. Honor their work. You cannot do it on your own, yet do not be afraid to speak boldly about what you know to be true.

(17-18) If you want to boast, boast be about what I am doing. Self-commendation often leads to pride, but recommending me will never fail you. As you make much of me, I make much of you.

Chapter 11

(1-3) Paul went on defending his ministry, honest about his desire for their love and support. He had brought them the message of my Son, who is full of mercy and grace. He called them to lives of pure devotion to my Son as the only King, yet some gifted speakers were coming in, enticing the Corinthians away from Paul’s straight forward message.

Beloved, you will hear many different messages about who my Son is and who I am. Many of these alternative messages will try to call you away from the heart of faith—trust in my Son, who is lavish in grace and love.

(4-6) In every generation, people proclaim a different Jesus whose only similarity is in name. They will offer a different spirit, but not mine. Their “good news” will not be the true gospel. These alternative gospels often come from polished speakers who know how to influence a crowd, but they are all fluff and no substance. Paul was not known for his eloquence, but his knowledge was exceptional. When it came to my Son, he knew what he was talking about. He spoke plainly, but the truth was always upon his lips.

(7-11) Paul brought the good news to the Corinthians free of charge and in humility, not as paid entertainment. In fact, he received support from the Macedonian believers in order to serve the Corinthians. He wanted nothing to stand in the way of them hearing the gospel. Indeed, he boasted about my powerful work by my Spirit in the region. He loved them and what I was doing in and through them.

(12-15) Paul persisted in preaching the pure message of the good news, knowing that the plain and simple truth always prevails over propaganda and entertainment. I want you to do the same. In the marketplace of ideas, there will be numerous truth claims, many of them from much larger platforms than yours. Many will claim that as long as they say the name “Jesus,” it is the same message, but it is not. If they preach a different message than my word reveals, it is a false gospel. Such preachers are deceivers, even though they claim to be handpicked by my Son. Even Satan, the great deceiver, disguises himself as an angel of light. Do not be surprised then when the devil’s servants also dress up as light bearers. Their false truths will lead them to destruction.

Beloved, hear this: there are so many competing philosophies and worldviews vying for your allegiance. You will not recognize them if you do not seek to live close to my Son, revealed through my word, and by my Spirit. Pray for clarity and seek the truth found only in my Son.

(16-20) As you can see, beloved, Paul was worked up. He was witnessing the effects believing a false gospel. Deceivers were leading the people astray with enticing claims and get rich quick schemes that had nothing to do with me. They were taking advantage of the church for their own gain, yet the people had no idea that they were being fleeced. Paul, in turn, wrote that he would willingly be foolish, setting up a brilliant contrast with these false apostles.

(21-22) Paul pointed out that he was too weak to act like those who manipulated the church. In the way of self-centeredness, seeking after your own gain at the expense of others is the name of the game, but in a life of other-centeredness, strength comes in “weakness” and self-sacrifice. So then what were Paul’s boasts? He had the “credentials.” He was a Hebrew, the descendant of Abraham, and a beloved son of Israel. He was also my Son’s faithful servant, proclaiming the kingdom through thick and thin.

(23-29) Paul suffered many things in service to my kingdom, but the pain was worth it because of how deeply he believed my message, yet he also understood that celebrating his suffering would appear like folly to many people. He had been imprisoned and severely beaten, even to the edge of death. He was scourged, stoned, and beaten with rods. He was shipwrecked three times, and nearly lost at sea. Constantly travelling and constantly in danger, he faced persecution from his enemies and his supposed friends. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, and cold. Even more, Paul felt the pressures of the young churches. When they suffered, he suffered; when they stumbled, he felt the sting of the fall.

Beloved, there is suffering in a fallen world whether you are following me or not. Like Paul, you will experience the pain of loss, the pain of a body that is wasting away, and the pain of relational disconnection. This world is not as it should be, yet you are not without hope because my Son came to usher in a new kingdom and “Behold, I am making all things new.”[11]

(30-31) If you must boast, highlight your weakness and imperfection, because I specialize in using broken vessels. Indeed, they are my only option. Why act otherwise?

(32-33) Paul could have pretended that he was some super-apostle, always bold in the face of threat, but like you, he was sometimes afraid. When he was in Damascus, the king was guarding the city in order to capture Paul, but Paul was let down in a basket so that he might escape persecution, yet I loved him no less.

Chapter 12

(1-3) Paul continued with his “boasting,” to help the Corinthian believers to understand why he was so committed to the good news. I had given Paul a vision of my pure love and goodness, a glimpse into my very dwelling place. Those who have seen visions of my glory are forever changed (cf. Isaiah, Ezekiel, John). I showed Paul what could be—the paradise of purity and wholeness in my presence.

(4-6) I revealed things to him that he could not repeat, yet his transformed life was testimony enough. Paul was content to highlight his own weaknesses as the right credentials for sharing the gospel. By the world’s standards, he had every right to boast, but his whole mission was to highlight my Son.

Be aware of the temptation to highlight your strengths or act better than you are to make people like you. Eventually people will see your brokenness, sin, and frailty. Instead, be honest. Help people to see that I am the God who welcomes the lost and broken into my kingdom.

(7) Paul witnessed my incomparable beauty. When one receives such a majestic gift, it is easy to assume that it is because they earned it, but it is always about my glory and not their own goodness. There is never a reason to think that some people are better than others in my eyes. The truth is that Paul not only had witnessed my glory, his “thorn in the flesh” remained as a daily reminder of his imperfect yet redeemed humanity. Beloved, everyone carries reminders within themselves that things are not yet what they are supposed to be.

(8-9) Paul pleaded with me to take away this painful reminder of life in a fallen world, but I left him just as he was, wanting him to rely upon the sufficiency of my grace and not on his own strength or ability. Beloved, hear this again: The power of my kingdom message does not come from well-polished messages delivered by well-polished speakers. No, the good news is most easily heard when it is delivered by broken vessels who are humble and reliant upon my grace. Do not be ashamed that you are not yet as you believe you should be; instead be open about it. Authenticity about your own humanity is an invitation for my Son’s powerful mercy to sweep over you to continue your healing.

(10) For the sake of Jesus, be content right where I have you, whether in weakness, illness, suffering, persecution, or insults. It is in your humanity that my strength most magnificently shines.

(11) Paul’s self-promotion as a “legitimate” apostle felt foolish to him, but he did not believe he had a choice because they were negating his ministry. He was a humble man, albeit filled with my Spirit, so drawing attention to his credentials was folly to Paul. Yet by doing what he considered to be foolish, he demonstrated that his message—my message—was in no way beneath what they were hearing from the “super apostles.”

(12-13) Indeed, my Spirit was working powerfully among the Corinthians through Paul who was, above all, patient with their maturing. They were filled with awe as they witnessed my power on display among them, which Paul helped them to see and understand. Indeed, my Spirit was no less evident in Corinth than in any of the other churches.

(14-15) Paul was coming to them again, not for compensation, but for relationship. Regardless of circumstance, always remember that life is principally about loving others. There is no shame in being compensated for your work, but ground your work in an offering of love. Do not worry about whether you are getting your fair share; think instead about how you can love others, even if your love is unrequited.

(16-18) Some Corinthians suggested that Paul was manipulating them to give, yet there was no evidence of deception by Paul or his fellow ministers. They were men of character. Beloved, live a life of such integrity that when others raise a charge against you, people will find it impossible to believe.

(19) Paul’s was never motivated by self-justification, but my glory and the love of the church. Learn from his example. Let all that you do be done for my glory and the love of others.

(20-21) Paul was afraid that despite his efforts among the Corinthians, they would continue unabashedly in sin and that he would then need to firmly confront them. Paul understood the allure of sin and how damaging it can be to people’s souls.

Chapter 13

(1-2) Paul announced his intent to return to the Corinthians once again, dedicated to their growth despite their struggling. He reminded them of Deuteronomy 19:15 where I instructed the Israelites on dealing with accusations. Serious charges require more than one witness. I do not want people throwing accusations around willy-nilly, especially when it has significant impact. However, if you do hear a serious charge from someone, it does not mean you should ignore it, but instead see if there is evidence to confirm the accusation. If there is sufficient evidence of lawlessness or harm, then let justice prevail. Paul was not afraid to confront sinfulness, but he did so wisely.

(3-4) Do not believe for a moment that my Son is indifferent to injustice. His life, death, and resurrection were all about setting everything right. He went to the cross in weakness, but his life is power. In the same way, beloved, you are weak in yourself, but the power of my Son lives within you.

(5-6) Sometimes, my followers think that any focus on “self” is evil. They believe that if you are not entirely focused upon me, you are following worldly principles. Not so. A significant part of a maturing faith is growing in self-knowledge. Indeed, not knowing yourself may be harmful to you and others so consider your life. Examine the ways you think and act. Are they consistent with the character of my Son? Do you realize that my Son’s very presence is alive in you? I want you to believe that he is truly the best way to live.

(7-8) It is because I care about your soul that I want you to avoid wrongdoing. Continually pursue whole and holy living, not to make others happy, but because living toward an integrated life is what is best for you. You will continually face choices for truth, goodness, and beauty or deception, evil, and sin. Live for truth, knowing that my Spirit lives within you and presses you toward my truth both within yourself and in your community.

(9-10) Even when you are feeling weak, honor the strength you see in others. My desire for all of creation is restoration—between people, within communities, in the world at large, and not least, within yourself. Pray for reintegration. Paul wrote this letter to the church with a hope for restoration knowing that when he came, he would bring whatever was necessary to help the Corinthians move toward faithful Christian living and the building up of the church rather than its destruction.

(11-14) Finally, beloved, rejoice that my Spirit is at work even through difficult and painful seasons. Work for restoration and reconciliation with others. Comfort the hurting. Seek common ground, pursuing peace with one another. I promise that when you live that way, my heart will never be far from you, because I am the God of peace and love. Greet others with warm affection. Know that the grace of my Son, my Fatherly love, and the community of my Holy Spirit will always be near you.

[1] 1 Cor. 5:7.

[2] See Rom. 5:20-21.

[3] Rumi, I am born of the Sun, 1621

[4] St. Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” Early Christian Writings, p. 185, Accessed September 6, 2020. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book4.html.

[5] Gen. 1:3.

[6] Ps. 23:4.

[7] See Jerry Bridges & Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007).

[8] Dallas A. Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship (Oxford: Monarch Book, 2006), 162.

[9] In this short section in 6:16-18, Paul pulled together verses from Leviticus 26:12, Ezekiel 37:27, Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 20:34 & 41, and 2 Samuel 7:14.

[10] Exodus 16:18.

[11] Revelation 21:5.