The five lessons in Unit 3 are from 2 Corinthians and will conclude the 2013–14 lesson series. Keep in mind that in all fourteen lessons this quarter the emphasis is on building community. In Unit 1 the exiles who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon became engrossed with their personal struggles for survival; it was when Haggai called them together to rebuild the temple that they regained a sense of community. In Unit 2 (1 Corinthians) the church at Corinth, reflecting the modern culture around them, allowed their diversities to cause divisions, and they came close to losing their identity as a church. In this unit of study (2 Corinthians) Paul calls on the Corinthian Christians as a community of believers to encourage, support, and forgive one another as Christ loves them.
In order to grasp the intense passion of 2 Corinthians, consider the relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth, drawn from Acts 18–20, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. Paul first came to Corinth on his second missionary journey. His stops at Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea and Athens lasted only a few days or weeks at each; but at Corinth he remained for a year and a half teaching and building the church. From there he returned to Jerusalem and Antioch, then he began his third tour. He traveled by land to the city of Ephesus, just across the Aegean Sea from Corinth. During the two years in Ephesus Paul, his companions and new converts established six other churches in the region besides the one in Ephesus. It was during this time that Paul received word that the church in Corinth was in trouble.
Some antagonists had followed Paul to Corinth, as they always did, and began to stir discord with their false teachings (twisting the Gospel to suit their own purpose) and maligning Paul’s character. Sadly, many Christians were taken in by it. Paul wrote a letter that we do not have, referenced in 1 Corinthians 5:9, then he wrote 1 Corinthians. Afterwards, Paul sent Timothy (1 Corinthians 16:10), made a painful visit himself (2 Corinthians 2:1), wrote a harsh letter (2:4; 7:8), and sent Titus (2:12) in attempts to call the church together. Paul left Ephesus, hoping to meet Titus at Troas, and then traveled on to Macedonia (2:13). Titus caught up with him at Philippi bearing good news from Corinth (7:6). Paul wrote 2 Corinthians (his fourth letter) and sent it ahead with Titus; Paul would arrive in Corinth later and stay with them for three months.
The conclusion to Paul’s third missionary journey involved visiting each of the churches to collect their offerings for the saints in Jerusalem (lesson five). Hard times had fallen on the Christians in Jerusalem with many of them living in poverty (Romans 15:25–26; 1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 8–9). Paul had made an appeal to the Gentile churches to take up a generous offering for them. He and several travel companions visited each congregation to receive their collection. He encouraged the Corinthians to generously share their bounty with Christians in need (2 Corinthians 8:7). Paul hoped to accomplish several objectives with this collection: 1) to help the needy; 2) to demonstrate that the conversion of Gentiles was genuine; and 3) to create a bond between the Gentile and Jewish churches (they all belong to one body).
In the first lesson Paul uses the same word ten times in its noun and verb forms (verses 3–7). The Greek word is related to the same word Jesus used in John 14 referring to the Holy Spirit. “Paraclete” means comforter, helper, advocate—literally, “to stand along side of.” Paul does not identify the sufferings experienced by the Corinthians or himself, but they and he can identify with Christ in His sufferings. They also receive from Christ comfort (consolation, strength); then they can and should comfort and console one another.
None of us are islands unto ourselves; when we receive Christ as our Savior, God makes us part of His family, His Church, and we become joined to other Christian believers. A hot coal removed from the fire looses its heat quickly, and a Christian separated from the Church soon loses his way.