At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians Paul expressed the desire to come back and see them soon. He was unable to return, and they took this badly.
“Judaizing” preachers, that is to say, those Jews insufficiently converted to Christ, whom Paul had to face all the time, were trying to undermine his authority. Paul sent a messenger whom the Corinthians deeply offended: some members of the community were openly rebelling against the apostle. Paul responded in a letter “written in the midst of tears” (2:4) whereby he demanded the submission of the community. One of Paul’s best assistants, Titus, brought the letter and concluded his mission successfully. Upon Titus’ return, Paul, reassured, sent this “second” letter (in fact it was the third or fourth) to the Corinthians.
What is the content of this letter? What Paul feels with regard to the Corinthians and what he suffers from their lack of understanding. It is not much and yet it is a great deal. Paul is incapable of speaking about himself without speaking of Christ. This restless man, eager for understanding and affection, is so permeated with the love of Christ, that he cannot express a suspicion or a reproach without giving most profound sermons on faith. In trying to justify himself he writes the most beautiful pages on evangelization and on what it means to be an apostle of Christ.
We shall see that this letter includes pages which were not a part of it—fragments of other letters or notes sent by Paul to the Church of Corinth: in particular, 6:14-18 was probably written before our First Letter to the Corinthians; chapter 9 (see commentary of 9:1); the chapters 10–13 which should contain a good part of the “letter written in tears” (see preceding paragraph).
•1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy, our brother, to the church of God in Corinth, and to all the saints in the whole of Achaia. 2May you receive grace and peace from God our Father and from Christ Jesus, the Lord.
Blessed be God, the source of all comfort
•3Blessed be God, the Father of Christ Jesus, our Lord, the all-merciful Father and the God of all comfort! 4He encourages us in all our trials, so that we may also encourage those in any trial, with the same comfort that we receive from God.
5For whenever the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, a great comfort also overflows. 6So, if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we receive comfort it is also for you. You may experience the same comfort when you come to endure the same sufferings we endure. 7Our hope for you is most firm; just as you share in our sufferings, so shall you also share in our consolation.
8Brothers and sisters, we want you to know some of the trials we experienced in the province of Asia. We were crushed; it was too much; it was more than we could bear and we had already lost all hope of coming through alive. 9We felt branded for death, but this happened that we might no longer rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He freed us from such a deadly peril and will continue to do so. We trust he will continue protecting us, 11but you must help us with your prayers. When such a favor is obtained by the intercession of many, so will there be many to give thanks to God on our behalf.
The plans of Paul
•12There is something we are proud of: our conscience tells us that we have lived in this world with the openness and sincerity that comes from God. We have been guided, not by human motives, but by the grace of God, especially in relation to you. 13There were no hidden intentions in my letter, but only what you can read and understand. 14I trust that what you now only partly realize, you will come to understand fully, and so be proud of us, as we shall also be proud of you on the Day of the Lord Jesus.
15With this assurance, I wanted to go and visit you first and this would have been a double blessing for you, 16for I would have left you to go through Macedonia and I would have come back to you on my way back from Macedonia and you would have sent me on my way to Judea. 17Have I planned this without thinking at all? Or do I change my decisions on the spur of the moment, so that I am between No and Yes?
18God knows that our dealing with you is not Yes and No, 19just as the Son of God, Christ Jesus, whom we—Silvanus, Timothy and I—preach to you, was not Yes and No; with him it was simply Yes. 20In him all the promises of God have come to be a Yes, and we also say in his name: Amen! giving thanks to God. 21 God himself has anointed us and strengthens us with you to serve Christ; 22he has marked us with his own seal in a first outpouring of the Spirit in our hearts.
Paul refers to a scandal
•23God knows, and I swear to you by my own life, that if I did not return to Corinth, it was because I wanted to spare you. 24I do not wish to lord it over your faith, but to contribute to your happiness; for regarding faith, you already stand firm.
1So I gave up a visit that would again be a distressing one. 2If I make you sad, who will make me happy if not you whom I have grieved? 3Remember what I wrote you, “May it be that when I come I do not feel sad because of you, who should rather make me happy.” I trust in everyone and I am sure that my joy will be the joy of you all.
4So afflicted and worried was I when I wrote to you, that I even shed tears. I did not intend to cause you pain, but rather to let you know of the immense love that I have for you.
5If anyone has caused me pain, he has hurt not me but in some measure, (I do not wish to exaggerate) all of you. 6The punishment that he received from the majority is enough for him. 7Now you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest excessive sorrow discourage him. 8So I beg you to treat him with love.
9This is why I wrote to you, to test you and to know if you would obey in everything. 10The one you forgive, I also forgive. And what I forgave, if indeed I had anything to forgive, I forgave for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11lest Satan take advantage of us; for we know his designs.
We are the fragrance of Christ
12So I came to Troas to preach the Gospel of Christ, and the Lord opened doors for me. 13However I could not be at peace because I did not find my brother Titus there, so I took leave of them and went to Macedonia.
14Thanks be to God, who always leads us in the triumphant following of Christ and, through us, spreads the knowledge of him everywhere, like an aroma. 15We are Christ’s fragrance rising up to God, and perceived by those who are saved as well as by those who are lost. 16To the latter, it smells of death and leads them to death. To others it is the fragrance of life and leads to life.
17But who is worthy of such a mission? Unlike so many who make money out of the word of God, we speak with sincerity: everything comes from God and is said in his presence, in Christ.
The great dignity of Christ’s ministers
•1Am I again commending myself? Or do I need to present to you letters of recommendation as some do; or should I ask you for those letters? 2You are the letter. This letter is written in your inner self, yet all can read and understand it. 3Yes, who could deny that you are Christ’s letter written by us—a letter written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, carved not in slabs of stones, but in hearts of flesh.
4This is how we are sure of God, through Christ. 5As for us we would not dare consider that something comes from us: our ability comes from God. 6He has even enabled us to be ministers of a new covenant no longer depending on a written text but on the Spirit. The written text kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7The ministry of the Law carved on stones brought death; it was nevertheless surrounded by glory and we know that the Israelites could not fix their eyes on the face of Moses, such was his radiance, though fleeting. 8How much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be! 9If there is greatness in a ministry which uses to condemn, how much more will there be in the ministry that brings holiness? 10This is such a glorious thing that in comparison the former’s glory is like nothing. 11That ministry was provisory and had only moments of glory; but ours endures with a lasting glory.
The veil of Moses
12Since we have such a great ambition, we are quite confident—13unlike Moses, who covered his face with a veil. Otherwise the Israelites would have seen his passing radiance fade.
14They became blind, however; until this day, the same veil prevents them from understanding the Old Covenant and they do not realize that in Christ it is nullified. 15Up to this very day, whenever they read Moses, the veil remains over their understanding 16but, for whoever turns to the Lord, the veil shall be removed. 17The Lord is spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
18So, with unveiled faces, we all reflect the glory of the Lord, while we are transformed into his likeness and experience his glory more and more by the action of the Lord who is spirit.
We carry this treasure in vessels of clay
•1Since this is our ministry mercifully given to us, we do not weaken. 2We refuse to stay with half-truths through fear; we do not behave with cunning or falsify the message of God but, manifesting the truth, we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
3In fact if the Gospel we proclaim remains obscure, it is obscure only for those who go to their own destruction. 4The god of this world has blinded the minds of these unbelievers lest they see the radiance of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is God’s image. 5It is not ourselves we preach, but Christ Jesus as Lord; and for Jesus’ sake we are your servants. 6God who said, Let the light shine out of darkness, has also made the light shine in our hearts to radiate and to make known the glory of God, as it shines in the face of Christ.
7However, we carry this treasure in vessels of clay, so that this all-surpassing power may not be seen as ours but as God’s. 8Trials of every sort come to us, but we are not discouraged. 9We are left without answer, but do not despair; persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not crushed. 10At any moment we carry in our person the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in us. 11For we, the living, are given up continually to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may appear in our mortal existence. 12And as death is at work in us, life comes to you.
13We have received the same spirit of faith referred to in Scripture that says: I believed and so I spoke. We also believe and so we speak. 14We know that He who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and bring us, with you, into his presence. 15Finally, everything is for your good, so that grace will come more abundantly upon you and great will be the thanksgiving for the glory of God.
We long for our heavenly dwelling
•16Therefore we are not discouraged. On the contrary, while our outer being wastes away, the inner self is renewed from day to day. 17The slight affliction that quickly passes away prepares us for an eternal wealth of glory so great and beyond all comparison. 18So we no longer pay attention to the things that are seen, but to those that are unseen, for the things that we see last for a moment, but that which cannot be seen is eternal.
1We know that when our earthly dwelling, or rather our tent, is destroyed, we may count on a building from God, a heavenly dwelling not built by human hands, that lasts forever. 2Therefore we long and groan: Why may we not put on this heavenly dwelling over that which we have? 3(Indeed, are we sure that we shall still be wearing our earthly dwelling and not be unclothed?)
4As long as we are in the field-tent, we indeed moan our unbearable fate for we do not want this clothing to be removed from us; we would rather put the other over it, that the mortal body may be absorbed by true life. 5This is God’s purpose for us, and he has given us the Spirit as a pledge of what we are to receive.
6So we feel confident always. We know that while living in the body, we are exiled from the Lord, 7living by faith, without seeing; 8but we dare to think that we would rather be away from the body to go and live with the Lord. 9So, whether we have to keep this house or lose it, we only wish to please the Lord. 10Anyway we all have to appear before the tribunal of Christ for each one to receive what he deserves for his good or evil deeds in the present life.
We proclaim the message of reconciliation
•11So we know the fear of the Lord and we try to convince people while we live openly before God. And I trust that you know in your conscience what we truly are. 12Once more, we do not try to win your esteem; we want to give you a reason to feel proud of us, that you may respond to those who heed appearances and not the reality. 13Now, if I have spoken foolishly, let God alone hear; if what I have said makes sense, take it for yourselves.
14Indeed the love of Christ holds us and we realize that if he died for all, all have died. 15He died for all so that those who live may live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and rose again for them. 16And so from now on, we do not regard anyone from a human point of view; and even if we once knew Christ personally, we should now regard him in another way.
17For that same reason, the one who is in Christ is a new creature. For him the old things have passed away; a new world has come. 18All this is the work of God who in Christ reconciled us to himself, and who entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. 19Because in Christ, God reconciled the world with himself, no longer taking into account their trespasses and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
20So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ, as if God himself makes an appeal to you through us. Let God reconcile you; this we ask you in the name of Christ. 21He had no sin, but God made him bear our sin, so that in him we might share the holiness of God.
1Being God’s helpers we beg you: let it not be in vain that you received this grace of God. 2Scripture says: At the favorable time I listened to you, on the day of salvation I helped you. This is the favorable time, this is the day of salvation.
The trials of an apostle
•3We are concerned not to give anyone an occasion to stumble or criticize our mission. 4Instead we prove we are true ministers of God in every way by our endurance in so many trials, in hardships, afflictions, 5floggings, imprisonment, riots, fatigue, sleepless nights and days of hunger.
6People can notice in our upright life, knowledge, patience and kindness, action of the Holy Spirit, sincere love, 7words of truth and power of God. So we fight with the weapons of justice, to attack as well as to defend.
8Sometimes we are honored, at other times insulted; we receive criticism as well as praise. We are regarded as liars although we speak the truth; 9as unknown though we are well known; as dead and yet we live. Punishments come upon us but we have not, as yet, been put to death. 10We appear to be afflicted, yet always joyful; we seem to be poor, but we enrich many; we have nothing, but we possess everything!
11Corinthians! I have spoken to you frankly and I have uncovered my inner thought. 12My heart is wide open to you, but you feel uneasy because of your closed heart: 13repay us with the same measure—I speak to you as to my children—open wide your hearts also.
Have nothing to do with evil
•14Do not make unsuitable covenants with those who do not believe: can justice walk with wickedness? Or can light coexist with darkness, 15and can there be harmony between Christ and Satan? What union can there be between one who believes and one who does not believe? 16God’s temple must have no room for idols, and we are the temple of the living God. As Scripture says; I will dwell and live in their midst, I will be their God and they shall be my people.
17Therefore: Come out from their midst and separate from them, says the Lord. Do not touch anything unclean 18and I will be gracious to you. I will be a father to you, that you may become my sons and daughters, says the all-powerful God.
1Since we have such promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from all defilement of body and spirit, and complete the work of sanctification in the fear of God.
Welcome us in your hearts
•2Welcome us in your hearts. We have injured no one, we have harmed no one, we have cheated no one. 3I do not say this to condemn you: I have just said that you are in our heart so that together we live, together we die. 4I have great confidence in you and I am indeed proud of you. I feel very much encouraged and my joy overflows in spite of all this bitterness.
5Know that when I came to Macedonia, I had no rest at all but I was afflicted with all kinds of difficulties: conflict outside and fear within. 6But God who encourages the humble gave me comfort with the arrival of Titus, 7not only because of his arrival, but also because you had received him very well. He told me about your deep affection for me; you were affected by what happened, you worried about me, and this made me rejoice all the more.
8If my letter caused you pain, I do not regret it. Perhaps I did regret it, for I saw that the letter caused you sadness for a moment but now I rejoice, 9not because of your sadness, but because this sadness brought you to repentance. This was a sadness from God, so that no evil came to you because of me. 10Sadness from God brings firm repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. 11See what this sadness from God has produced in you: What concern for me! What apologies! What indignation and fear! What a longing to see me, to make amends and do me justice!
You have fully proved that you were innocent in this matter. 12In reality, I wrote to you not on account of the offender or of the offended, but that you may be conscious of the concern you have for me before God. 13I was encouraged by this.
In addition to this consolation of mine, I rejoice especially to see Titus very pleased with the way you all reassured him. 14I had no cause to regret my praise of you to him. You know that I am always sincere with you; likewise my praise of you to Titus has been justified. 15He now feels much more affection for you as he remembers the obedience of all and the respect and humility with which you received him. 16Really I rejoice for I can be truly proud of you.
The collection for those in Jerusalem
•1Now I want you to know about a gift of divine grace among the Churches of Macedonia. 2While they were so afflicted and persecuted, their joy overflowed and their extreme poverty turned into a wealth of generosity. 3-4According to their means—even beyond their means—they wanted to share in helping the saints.
They asked us for this favor spontaneously and with much insistence 5and, far beyond anything we expected, they put themselves at the disposal of the Lord and of us by the will of God. 6Accordingly, I urged Titus to complete among you this work of grace since he began it with you. 7You excel in everything: in the gifts of faith, speech and knowledge; you feel concern for every cause and, besides, you are first in my heart. Excel also in this generous service.
8This is not a command; I make known to you the determination of others to check the sincerity of your fraternal concern. 9You know well the generosity of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Although he was rich, he made himself poor to make you rich through his poverty.
10I only make a suggestion, because you were the first not only in cooperating, but in beginning this project a year ago. 11So complete this work and, according to your means, carry out what you decided with much enthusiasm. 12When there is a good disposition, everything you give is welcomed and no one longs for what you do not have. 13I do not mean that others should be at ease and you burdened. Strive for equality; 14at present give from your abundance what they are short of, and in some way they also will give from their abundance what you lack. Then you will be equal 15and what Scripture says shall come true: To the one who had much, nothing was in excess; to the one who had little, nothing was lacking.
16Blessed be God who inspires Titus with such care for you! 17He not only listened to my appeal but he wanted to go and see you on his own initiative. 18I am sending with him the brother who has gained the esteem of the churches in the work of the Gospel; 19moreover they appointed him to travel with us in this blessed work we are carrying on for the glory of the Lord but also because of our personal enthusiasm.
20We decided on this so that no one could suspect us with regard to this generous fund that we are administering. 21Let us see to it that all may appear clean not only before God but also before people. 22We also send with them another brother who on several occasions has shown us his zeal and, now, is more enthusiastic because of his confidence in you.
23You then have Titus, our companion and minister, to serve you and, with him, you have our brothers, representatives of the churches and a glory to Christ. 24Show them how you love, and prove before the churches all the good things I said to them about you.
More about the collection
•1It is not necessary for me to write to you about assistance to the saints. 2I know your readiness and I praised you before the Macedonians. I said, “In Achaia they have been ready for the collection since last year.” And your enthusiasm carried most of them along. 3So I send you these brothers of ours. May all my praise of you not fall flat in this case! May you be ready, as I said. 4If some Macedonians come with me, let them not find you unprepared. What a shame for me—and perhaps for you—after so much confidence!
5So I thought it necessary to ask our brothers to go ahead of us and see you to organize this blessed work you have promised. It shall come from your generosity and not be an imposed task.
6Remember: the one who sows meagerly will reap meagerly, and there shall be generous harvests for the one who sows generously. 7Each of you should give as you decided personally, and not reluctantly as if obliged. God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to fill you with every good thing, so that you have enough of everything at all times, and may give abundantly for any good work.
9Scripture says: He distributed, he gave to the poor, his good works last forever. 10God who provides the sower with seed will also provide him with the bread he eats. He will multiply the seed for you and also increase the interests of your good works. 11Become rich in every way, and give abundantly. What you give will become, through us, a thanksgiving to God.
12For this sacred relief, after providing the saints with what they need, will result in much thanksgiving to God. 13This will be a test for them; they will give thanks because you obey the requirements of Christ’s Gospel and share generously with them and with all. 14They shall pray to God for you and feel affection for you because the grace of God overflows in you.
15Yes, thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Paul’s defense and admonition
•1It is I, Paul, who by the humility and kindness of Christ appeal to you, the Paul “who is timid among you and bold when far away from you!”
2Do not force me to act boldly when I come, as I am determined and will dare to act against some people who think that I act from human motives. 3Human is our condition but not our fight.
4Our weapons for this fight are not human but they have divine power to destroy strongholds—those arguments 5and haughty thoughts that oppose the knowledge of God. We compel all understanding, that they obey Christ. 6So I am prepared to punish any disobedience when you should show perfect obedience.
7See things as they really are. If someone is convinced that he belongs to Christ, let him consider that just as he is Christ’s, so am I. 8Although I may seem too confident in the authority that the Lord gave me for building you up and not for pulling you down, I will not be put to shame for saying this. 9Do not think that I can only frighten you with letters. 10“His letters are severe and strong,” some say, “but as he is, he has no presence and he is a poor speaker.” 11To such people I say, “Be careful: what my letters say from afar, is what I will do when I come.”
12How could I venture to equate or compare myself with some people who proclaim their own merits? Fools! They measure themselves with their own measure and compare themselves with themselves. 13As for me, I will not boast beyond measure, for I will not go past the limits that the God of true measure has set for me: He gave the measuring stick when he made me set foot in your place.
14It is not the same when someone goes beyond his field to where he has not been able to set foot. But I am he who first reached you with the Gospel of Christ. 15I am not making myself important where others have worked. On the contrary, we hope that as your faith increases, so too our area of ministry among you will be enlarged without going beyond our limit. 16So we shall bring the Gospel to places beyond yours without entering into the field of others, or boasting and making ourselves important where the work is already done. 17Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. 18It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
1May you bear with me in some little foolishness! But surely you will. 2I confess that I share the jealousy of God for you, for I have promised you in marriage to Christ, the only spouse, to present you to him as a pure virgin. 3And this is my fear: the serpent that seduced Eve with cunning could also corrupt your minds and divert you from the Christian sincerity. 4Someone now comes and preaches another Jesus different from the one we preach, or you are offered a different spirit from the one you have received, with a different Gospel from the one you have accepted—and you agree!
5I do not see how I am inferior to those super-apostles. 6Does my speaking leave much to be desired? Perhaps, but not my knowledge, as I have abundantly shown to you in every way.
Paul commends the apostle Paul
•7Perhaps my fault was that I humbled myself in order to uplift you, or that I gave you the Gospel free of charge. 8I called upon the services of other churches and served you with the support I received from them. 9When I was with you, although I was in need, I did not become a burden to anyone. The friends from Macedonia gave me what I needed. I have taken care not to be a burden to you in anything and I will continue to do so. 10By the truth of Christ within me, I will let no one in the land of Achaia stop this boasting of mine.
11Why? Because I do not love you? God knows that I do! 12Yet I do and I will continue to do so to silence any people anxious to appear as equal to me: this is my glory. 13In reality, they are false apostles, deceivers disguised as apostles of Christ. 14It is not surprising: if Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, 15his servants can easily disguise themselves as ministers of salvation, until they receive what their deeds deserve.
16I say again: Do not take me for a fool, but if you do take me as such, bear with me that I may sing my own praises a little. 17I will not speak with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool, bringing my own merits to prominence. 18As some people boast of human advantages, I will do the same. 19Fortunately you bear rather well with fools, you who are so wise! 20You tolerate being enslaved, and exploited, robbed, treated with contempt and slapped in the face. 21What a shame that I acted so weakly with you!
But if others are so bold, I shall also dare, although I may speak like a fool. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23Are they ministers of Christ? (I begin to talk like a madman) I am better than they.
Better than they with my numerous labors. Better than they with the time spent in prison. The beatings I received are beyond comparison. How many times have I found myself in danger of death! 24Five times the Jews sentenced me to thirty-nine lashes. 25Three times I was beaten with a rod, once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked, and once I spent a night and a day adrift on the high seas.
26I have been continually in hazards of traveling because of rivers, because of bandits, because of my fellow Jews, or because of the pagans; in danger in the city, in the open country, at sea; in danger from false brothers. 27I have worked and often labored without sleep, I have been hungry and thirsty and starving, cold and without shelter.
28Besides these and other things, there was my daily concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak that I do not feel weak as well? Whoever stumbles, am I not on hot bricks?
30If it is necessary to boast, let me proclaim the occasions on which I was found weak. 31The God and Father of Jesus the Lord—may he be blessed for ever!—knows that I speak the truth. 32At Damascus, the governor under king Aretas placed the city under guard in order to arrest me, 33and I had to be let down in a basket through a window in the wall. In that way I slipped through his hands.
•1It is useless to boast; but if I have to, I will go on to some visions and revelations of the Lord.
2I know a certain Christian: fourteen years ago he was taken up to the third heaven. 3Whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know, God knows. But I know that this man, whether in the body or out of the body—I do not know, God knows—4was taken up to Paradise where he heard words that cannot be told: things which humans cannot express.
5Of that man I can indeed boast, but of myself I will not boast except of my weaknesses. 6If I wanted to boast, it would not be foolish of me, for I would speak the truth. 7However, I better give up lest somebody think more of me than what is seen in me or heard from me. Lest I become proud after so many and extraordinary revelations, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a true messenger of Satan, to slap me in the face. 8Three times I prayed to the Lord that it leave me, 9but he answered, “My grace is enough for you; my great strength is revealed in weakness.”
Gladly, then, will I boast of my weakness that the strength of Christ may be mine. 10So I rejoice when I suffer infirmities, humiliations, want, persecutions: all for Christ! For when I am weak, then I am strong.
11I have acted as a fool but you forced me. You should have been the ones commending me. Yet I do not feel outdone by those super-apostles, 12even though I am nothing. All the signs of a true apostle are found in me: patience in all trials, signs, miracles and wonders.
13Now, in what way were you not treated like the rest of the churches? Only in this: I was not a burden to you—forgive me for this offense!
This is my third visit to you
•14For the third time I plan to visit you, and I will not be a burden to you, for I am not interested in what you have but only in you. Children should not have to collect money for their parents, but the parents for their children. 15As for me, I am ready to spend whatever I have and even my whole self for all of you. If I love you so much, am I to be loved less?
16Well, I was not a burden to you, but was it not a trick to deceive you? Tell me: 17Did I take money from you through any of my messengers? 18I asked Titus to go to you and I sent another brother with him. But did Titus take money from you? Have we not both acted in the same spirit?
19Perhaps you think that we are again apologizing; but no: we speak in Christ and before God, and I do this for you, dear friends, to build you up. 20I fear that if I go and see you, I might not find you as I would wish, and you in turn, might not find me to your liking. I might see rivalries, envy, grudges, disputes, slanders, gossip, conceit, disorder. 21Let it not be that in coming again to you, God humble me because of you and I have to grieve over so many of you who live in sin, on seeing that they have not yet given up an impure way of living, their wicked conduct and the vices they formerly practiced.
1This will be my third visit to you. Any charge must be decided upon by the declaration of two or three witnesses. 2I have said and I say again, being still far away, just as I did on my second visit I say to you who lived in sin as well as to the rest: when I return to you, I will not have pity. 3You want to know if Christ is speaking through me? So you will. He is not used to dealing weakly with you, but rather he acts with power. 4If he was crucified in his weakness, now he lives by the strength of God; and so we are weak with him, but we will be well alive with him, because God acts powerfully with you.
5Examine yourselves: are you acting according to faith? Test yourselves. Can you assert that Christ Jesus is in you? If not, you have failed the test. 6I hope you recognize that we ourselves have not failed it.
7We pray God that you may do no wrong, not that we wish to be acknowledged but we want you to do right, even if in this we appear to have failed. 8For we do not have power against the truth, but only for the truth. 9We rejoice if we are weak while you are strong, for all we hope is that you become perfect. 10This is why I am writing now, so that when I come I may not have to act strictly and make use of the authority the Lord has given me for building up and not for destroying.
11Finally, brothers and sisters, be happy, strive to be perfect, have courage, be of one mind and live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13The grace of Christ Jesus the Lord, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
• 1.1 From the very beginning, Paul describes his own situation as an apostle of Christ—wandering, persecuted, ill—to the Corinthians who know how to take it easy. While they feel proud of their large community and look for brilliant preachers (as will be seen below), Paul shares in the passion of Christ. Paul suggests that they too will know the true consolation of God when it is their turn to suffer for him.
• 3. The word comfort will often occur in this letter. God would not be satisfied by just teaching us resignation: comfort is the experience of the presence of God, but relies in part on the signs that show him acting among us. The two go together. Jesus told us to ask so that God would answer and his responses would be a source of joy (Jn 15:24). In any case, God does not free us of trials but gives strength and perseverance to overcome them.
• 12. The Corinthians did not take it well that Paul put off the promised visit. He feels obliged to confess that he has passed the stage of an apostolate based on human projects. He is a man of the Spirit and does not make decisions in the same way as many others do. The Spirit in him matures his decisions and he knows that he is not alone. He will not be one of those who are precipitate in making decisions or who back-pedal because they are not sure of themselves.
In him all the promises of God have come to be a Yes (v. 20). God fulfilled his promises when he sent his Son among us. Christ also did only what his Father wanted. Thus, Christ is a ‘yes’ consenting to the Father’s plan. From there, Paul draws the consequences for Christians. In baptism we say the first yes to Christ. At every Eucharist we repeat the same yes. The “amen” that we say in prayers means yes, it is true. The opposite of all this is sin which is the same as saying ‘no’ to Christ.
In a first outpouring (v. 22). Paul actually says: he gave us the first payment of the Spirit. See commentary on Ephesians 1:14.
• 23. Here Paul refers to the letters preceding this one and which we mentioned in the introduction. We referred to a previous letter that is perhaps preserved in chapters 10–13 of this “second letter.”
I do not wish to lord it over your faith (v. 24): see 10:5-6. May it be that, when I come, I do not feel sad (2:3): see 12:21.
Paul alludes here to the triumph of the victorious Roman generals: the prisoners to be massacred later were dragged behind their chariots. Paul sees himself here as “the prisoner of Christ” (Eph 4:1). Jesus had taken him by force (1 Cor 9:16), making him his apostle. We understand these words as we do for Jeremiah (20:7): this irresistible call of God is in fact the access to a higher form of freedom.
The triumph was the occasion for offering a lot of incense: the perfume was the sign of glory for the one who was being honored rather like a god, a sign of death for the prisoners who were there. This comparison allowed Paul to continue in another direction: for some it smells of death (v. 16). The Gospel divides people. Even without going deeper into the mystery they are able to appreciate the “odor,” namely the style of Christian existence. Some are especially aware of the demands of Christian life, which to them seems a death. Others, on the contrary, envy the mysterious force that animates believers in the midst of their trials, and letting them understand that life is there.
Who is worthy of such a mission? (v. 17). In seeing this, the apostle feels inadequate for his mission. He would like everyone to recognize Christ and the radiance of his love through him, but he is a long way from that! On the contrary, the false apostle does not even think about that, but only wishes to be approved and to make money out of the word of God by hiding its demands: such apostles are famous and are not persecuted by anyone.
• 3.1 The preachers who oppose Paul would show letters of recommendation given by some community or some apostle. Whereas Paul relies on personal authority which doesn’t owe anything to anyone. Christ himself made him an apostle as he said in several places.
The pagans of that time surrounded their priests with honor and esteem, and so did the Jews. Throughout the Bible the honor of teaching the Law of God is highlighted and more so the unique role of Moses, who received the Law from God on Sinai. Yet an apostle of Christ is much greater than these.
How much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be! (v. 8). As Paul showed in Romans 7:1-13, teaching only the Law as the Jewish priests did, was not a great help to people since, because they are sinners, they do not obey the law and deserve their punishment. Whereas Paul brings believers into live communication with Christ and his Spirit so that, from then on, they can also share in the risen life. The apostles and ministers of the Church fulfill a major role if their words and actions are helpful in uplifting people.
In verses 7-13 Paul refers to the traditions found in the Book of Exodus (Ex 34:29-35). These highlighted Moses’ glory, but Paul mentions them to prove that Christ’s apostles are superior. There is a reference to Moses returning from his encounter with God with his face radiant; but Paul remarks that it did not last. Moses had to cover his face with a veil because his face was so radiant, but Paul notes that when a veil must be used, God does not yet fully reveal himself.
Paul underlines the blindness of the Jews who do not recognize Christ as the promised Savior: they have lost the key to their history and for them the Bible remains a closed book until the day when God, through Christ, gives them its true meaning (Lk 24:27; Rev 5:1). All their history should be understood as a mystery of death and resurrection. To enter into a new Covenant they had to welcome Christ without concern for their own privileges, and become his disciples together with other nations.
We are unlike Moses (v. 13). What a daring affirmation! Moses was the founder of the Jewish people and the supreme authority of the Bible! It is a fact that the least among Christians reflects with unveiled face the glory of the Lord. The Christian is the light of Christ and in earlier times those baptized were called “the enlightened.”
The Lord is spirit. Paul says this twice in verses 17 and 18. He does not confuse Lord, Christ, with Holy Spirit but plays with the words spirit and Spirit. He recalls that the person who turns to the Lord (v. 16) goes beyond a first stage of faith (that Paul calls the letter) where he found God through laws and practices. He enters the adult age of spiritual life where, through God’s Spirit, we know ourselves and act towards God like sons and daughters and free persons. So Paul means: To find the Lord is to receive the Spirit and accede to the “spirit” (see Rom 2:29).
• 4.1 It is worthwhile underlining some features of the portrait of an apostle as Paul sketches it:
– We do not lose heart.
– We do not proceed with trickery nor do we falsify God’s message.
– We are more than your servants.
– Let everyone discover in us the glory of God that shines in Christ’s face.
– We carry the death of Jesus so that his life may be revealed in us.
– We believe and that is why we speak.
We carry this treasure in vessels of clay (v.7). Usually, God carries out his plans by using inadequate instruments. Graham Greene became famous for his book “The Power and the Glory” in which we see a priest achieving heroic things despite his many personal faults.
For we, the living, are given up continually to death (v. 11). The apostle’s death is necessary so that his work may live. When a good job has been done in one sector of the Church, there has to come the hour of persecution, or of obedience to leaders whose authority we cannot reject, in spite of the fact that they may be unjust or mistaken. Nothing grows without having died first.
• 16. Paul has just reaffirmed his faith; for a few instants he confides what he feels within himself, confronted as he is by a thousand dangers and obstacles.
The outer being… the inner self (v. 16). With these two terms Paul takes up again what he has already said in Romans 8:10-11. There, he opposes “flesh” to “spirit” as here the outer being to the inner self. Here he reveals this strange experience that is his: the discovery in himself of a presence of God increasingly active, and at the same time a precocious wearing away.
With that, will Paul last long enough to see the return of Christ as he hoped a few years earlier (1 Thes 4:15)? He had greatly hoped that his glorious body would cover his earthly tent (5:21; see 1 Cor 15:52)! Now he is doubtful: from day to day it becomes more probable that he must pass through death, of which he has a horror, share the lot of those who have had to shed their clothing of flesh and await the resurrection.
He has no doubt that at death he will meet Christ: compare 5:8 with Philippians 1:23 and Revelation 14:13. We do not cease to exist, as is said by some, until the day of our resurrection.
So we feel confident always (5:6). No certitude of faith removes the horror of death; it may perhaps provide even further reasons for increasing it. Jesus experienced a strange agony before being arrested. This trial is only temporary and faith is reassuring “Who will separate us from the love of God?” (Rom 8:35-39).
• 5.11 There are many ways of understanding faith: for each one of us, one or other aspect of Christian life makes more of an impact. What Paul sees in Christ is the great messenger and artisan of reconciliation.
His first conviction is that, with the death of Christ, a new age has begun for divided humanity. If he died for all, all have died (v. 14), namely, the whole history and wisdom of people before him have been surpassed and now God works among us in other ways.
We do not regard anyone from the human point of view (v. 16). Paul confides something of his affective life. Those around him love him, even if they make difficulties for him, and in the Church each one has his friends, those on whom he may count. Paul loves them, but doubtless not all in the same way. To begin with, he accepts persons with different criteria and is not guided (as are many Corinthians) by the appearance of fine speakers (v. 12). And his affectivity has been renewed in the measure that he has been possessed by Christ: he loves them as God loves them and as God would like them to be.
Even if we once knew Christ personally… (v. 16). (Paul says: “If we have known him in the flesh” or, as he was in his humanity.) He no longer sees Christ as a Galilean preacher, enclosed in the context of Jewish life, but rather dominating history. Without a doubt he is also alluding to certain adversaries who consider themselves superior to him because they have known Jesus or belong to his family. He says to them: “we must” (which means: you must) see him differently: do not see him as your cousin!
The one who is in Christ is a new creature (v. 17): first because the barriers that divide and separate people no longer exist for him (see Gal 3:27; Eph 2:14-16). Also because it is not human desires that guide him, but the Spirit of God who recreates him at every instant (Gal 5:13-21).
In Christ God reconciled the world with himself (v. 19). Many people like to say: Jesus is love. This is true, but let us not forget that this love is his response to the love of the Father who wishes to reconcile us; we must do away with the idea of an angry God whom Jesus tries to appease (Rom 3:25).
Who entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation (v. 18). Christians are not satisfied with only singing the praises of God, and their supreme aspiration is not to find a likeable community. They do their part in the task of universal reconciliation that supposes a denunciation of injustice and sin, and the effort to overcome them. Today the Church says a great deal about this so that we may better understand our mission in the world and in the conflicts and tensions that tear our nations apart.
We present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ (v. 20). This is not only true of the apostles and Paul. It is also meant for us when we go to visit the sick or the needy; when, overcoming suspicion, we approach our brother or sister to create an atmosphere of confidence, so that, shortly, we may arrive at fraternal fellowship with others who have the same problems but who, in spite of that, often remain locked in their selfishness.
He had no sin (v. 21). It is difficult to translate Paul’s words: “He made sin him who did not know sin,” for obviously Paul here speaks according to Hebrew culture where the same word denotes both the sin and the victim who carries the sin. Paul recalls the mystery of the cross: reconciliation is not achieved without voluntary victims who take on themselves the hatred and the sin of humankind.
• 6.3 A distinctive sign of the apostle of Christ: the contrast between the treasure entrusted to him for others, and his own existence hardly enviable and truly unenvied. Like Jesus, he is a sign of contradiction. Paul recalls what he must endure, but does not hide his pride and his conviction: we enrich many, and we possess everything.
The eloquent appeal beginning in verses 11-13 continues in 7:2-16. It is there we find the commentary.
• 14. This passage interrupts the flow of the discourse 6:13 continued in 7:2. What is the meaning of this sudden invitation not to have anything to do with bad people?
In the “first” letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:9) Paul recalled a previous message in which he was asking them not to mix with people of immoral behavior. It is quite possible that the present passage comes from that message. Paul himself explains how we should understand these lines when he says in 1 Corinthians 5:10: “I did not tell you to stay away from the sinners of this world (if it were so, you would have to leave this world), but from the believers who went back to their pagan customs.”
• 7.2 Welcome us in your hearts. Here again the affective side of Paul is revealed. This indefatigable missionary, never overcome or discouraged, was at the same time very sensitive. Paul here recalls the incident we have spoken of in the introduction. Thanks to Paul’s letter, which must have been harsh, the Corinthians were converted, followed Paul and dealt with those who attacked him.
• 8.1 The saints (v. 3) are the Christians of Jerusalem. In the year 48 there was a famine in Judea and in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28) due to the poor harvest of the previous year, a sabbatical year (during which the Jews did not sow so that the earth could rest). To remedy this situation of shortage, economic aid for the Christians of Jerusalem was organized. Later, Paul promised to keep the Jerusalem community in mind during his missions among the pagans (Gal 2:10). Here, Paul exhorts the Churches in Corinth and in the province to take up this collection that they had agreed upon.
Paul does not use the word collection in these chapters. Instead he speaks of the liberality and the greatness of generous giving; of the blessed work of grace. It is more a gift for the one who gives than for the one who receives.
Paul takes great care that the collection, involving large amounts, should be duly taken up. It must be collected and held by people who enjoy the confidence of the community.
In verse 18 Paul surely refers to Luke: probably he had not yet published his Gospel, but was already helping the Churches to preach it.
• 9.1 Here again Paul speaks of the collection as if he had not done so in the previous chapter. Some think that at the same time Paul was writing to the Corinthians to invite them to give (chap. 8), he wrote another message for the churches of Achaia, which was the province of Corinth: this message may have been placed here later, at the end of the letter, because the theme is the same (chap. 9).
• 10.1 The tone of violence in these chapters 10–13 does not fit with the reconciliation previously expressed. They may come from the letter Paul had sent before, following the incident in which various members of the Corinthian community rebelled against him.
In this extraordinary page, a few words immediately situate the discussion.
Some members of the community attack Paul’s authority, feeling supported by those who have not been able to set foot (v. 14). Who are these people? They have the title of apostle, that is, of founders of communities, but by chance they always arrive where the work is already done (v. 16). People compare one “apostle” with another and Paul who never wanted to be served, who never pretended to be a great orator, or “doctor in religion” appears as a man of weak personality. His letters are severe and strong, some say, but as he is, he has no presence and he is a poor speaker (v. 10).
Do not force me to act boldly (v. 2). Paul sees himself as the apostle of the community, the one who has led them to the faith and communicated the Holy Spirit to them: no one could deny that.
Paul speaks of his power and his weapons in a threatening way. Surely the “power that destroys strongholds” is the Word of God. The Word of God gave birth to the Christian communities and gives them the power to stay united and alive in the face of opposition. The Gospel is “God’s power,” and when it is boldly proclaimed, the forces that oppose it collapse.
In this case, however, it is also a question of Paul’s spiritual power. Naturally, we think of Paul’s conviction, the power of his word, the awareness of his mission, all of which made an impact on the Corinthians. It is also in the nature of apostles and prophets to threaten at times, on behalf of God who intervenes in an obvious way to show they are right. Recall the case with Ananias and Sapphira before Peter (Acts 5).
Paul’s firm intention is to destroy arguments and haughty thoughts that oppose the knowledge of God (v. 5). One might see here nothing but a rivalry between persons, but Paul knows what bothers many of them in his leadership: he does not go along with their game of petty interests and makes them live in the truth. If they do not have the courage to continue in that way, they will be nothing more than a religious group among others: they will have lost the path of the knowledge of God.
Faith is obedience (Rom 1:5): we submit to a teaching from God. That always goes together with obedience in a concrete life situation. If God has intended us to be a Church, he has necessarily wanted obedience to a hierarchy and to an established order. It is such obedience that Paul exacts.
Take note: this right to be obeyed is based on the call of Christ that has made him an apostle and on what the Spirit has done through him. When we see a multitude of preachers setting out on a mission, each one for his own church, we would at times have the right to ask who has sent them. We must also remember that it is not a question of Paul reigning over this community or several of them: he has already left to evangelize further afield (vv. 15-16).
• 11.7 In chapters 11 and 12, Paul will compare himself to the “apostles” who managed to be appreciated by the Corinthians, and on which his opponents are relying. Paul wants not to treat them as equal to equal: he is conscious of who he is, he can judge them. A dangerous position, even for someone who believes he is truly inspired by God! And yet, see 1 Corinthians 2:14-15.
To begin with, Paul is sure of a direct call from Christ: this contact with the risen Jesus has given him a transforming presence of Christ. He knows that his criteria, his decisions, his prophetic intuition have bypassed his adversaries. It is precisely because he has reached a superior level of life in the Spirit that he feels free vis-à-vis the “religious obligations” that are given such importance, even first place, by his opponents: compare paragraph 11:4-6 with Galatians 2:6-10 and 5:7-12; see also 1 Thessalonians 3:2-11.
Their attachment to the observance of the Jewish Law does not come from a different, legitimate view of matters of faith. They hold to it, because in their own lives, they have not discovered the best of Christian experience. Jesus had already shown, as in the case of the Pharisees that strict observance of religious rites comes from a lack of true faith (Mk 7:6). Whoever has the experience of life in the Spirit, shocks, without wishing to do so, any “religious” people and such was the case of Paul in the Church.
In verses 22-30, Paul speaks of his labors and the risks he has taken, the persecutions he has known. He does not do this to be well thought of. He wants to show others, and remind himself, that he is gifted with an exceptional grace. All are called to follow Jesus and carry his cross, all are called to evangelize. Why is it that so few undertake the true work of evangelization among “those who are afar,” as Jesus and Paul did? That in itself is a grace, and those who have not received it do not perceive the calls and miss the occasions. Paul intends to remain inimitable, not through vainglory but in fidelity to the way on which Christ has placed him.
APOSTOLATE AND CONTEMPLATION
• 12.1 Here Paul briefly alludes to the ecstasies through which he has been formed anew. The word ecstasy seems to many people rather eccentric; for others it is only appropriate for contemplative living apart from the world. It is quite true that ecstasy, if genuine, is relevant to contemplative life. But what is contemplation?
By “contemplation” we often understand the time given to meditation on the things of God and the discovery of his presence in our lives. In this sense we oppose contemplation to action, or we say that both should go together. Yet the word “contemplation” also and more rightly denotes a new stage in spiritual life where the relationship between our spirit and God are profoundly changed.
In this contemplation, it is not we who discover God or who establish ourselves in silence. God is the one who imposes his presence, who, in us, gives birth to our response. Contemplation is a gift of God; it is a way of knowing God, of being guided, reformed by him that is different from what the majority of Christians experience. It is not exceptional. The transforming and sovereign action of the Spirit is there more efficacious, leading always to the same end: the individual no longer belongs to himself.
This contemplation may be given to those who have retired to convents to answer a call from God; it may be given to those who live the normal life of most people; it is given to apostles. Differing from the practice of transcendental meditation and recollection that come from the East, it eludes our efforts; it is not a matter of leading either a more active or a more retired life. What is essential is that God has taken possession of our liberty (see Jer 1:5).
If Paul has been the apostle we know, if he has had an exceptional understanding of the Christian mystery, it is because he has been a great contemplative—in the sense we have just given. The ecstasies about which he has spoken correspond to the early years following his conversion (see Acts 22:6 and 17); they are proper to an advanced stage of contemplative life, but not the last, which is total and constant union with God.
I was given a thorn in my flesh (v. 7). Many hypotheses have been offered on what this thorn could be: an illness perhaps (2 Cor 1:8; Gal 4:13) of which the unforeseen relapses reduced him to powerlessness? Or a temptation of the “flesh,” a late consequence of his moral education as rigid as the commandments of the Law? What is certain is that we all aspire to a state of peace in which we feel sure of ourselves, but God for his part, whatever the richness of his gifts, refuses to grant it (1 Cor 2:5; 4:7).
• 14. Paul ends his letter in affirming his authority. Jesus had spoken of a testimony coming both from the apostles and the Holy Spirit; in the same way Paul ends his defense appealing to a discernment which will be the work of the Spirit: verify, examine, recognize. Without a doubt it should be the same in the Church and at all levels; we cannot resolve conflicts or decide on orientation by arguments or votes only. We must necessarily have, besides reflection, times of silence, of true prayer and listening to the word of God.
Notice the “trinitarian” formula in 13:13.