The Second Letter To Corinth
February 26th, 1956 @ 10:50 AM
2 Corinthians 1:1-7
THE SECOND LETTER TO CORINTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
- Corinthians 1:1-7
2-26-56 10:50 a.m.
Last Sunday evening we finished preaching through the first Corinthian letter. I looked at my chronological record of the messages that are delivered here in this pulpit, and I found that I had preached exactly a full year on 1 Corinthians, to the day. This is the beginning of a second year, and it is almost into the eleventh year, starting the eleventh year of preaching through the Bible. So this morning we begin at the second Corinthian letter.
Now, if you have your Bible and will turn to it, you can follow the message because there is one part of it, the last part of it, but especially, I would like for you to see and to listen to. Now what the pastor will do this morning is this, we are going to look at the whole letter. I had planned on giving a brief resume of the background of the letter, what occasioned it, what led up to it, but we haven’t time. So we are just going to look at the letter itself, the second letter to the church at Corinth from Paul, written somewhere up in Macedonia. Now, you would think from reading the letter that there are three letters; they are altogether different, those three parts, they have nothing to do with the previous part. Chapters 1 through 7 concern Paul’s trials and consolations [2 Corinthians 1:1-7:16]. The most eloquent passage in all the literature of the human race is contained in this section. Paul, in great trial, despairing even of life, and then finding a refuge and a strength incomparable in the presence and grace of Christ—now that is the first part of it, 1 through 7.
Now the middle part of the letter, chapters 8 and 9 [2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15]—there ought not to be a [division] between them, they ought to be read together—it has to do with the collection, with an offering. Paul is picking up a tremendous offering, and chapters 8 and 9 have to do with that offering.
Now, the last part of the second Corinthian letter; chapters 10 through 13, are a defense of his apostleship [2 Corinthians 10:1-13:14]. It is a vindication of his ministry. And that’s why we don’t have time for some preliminary things this morning, because I have something to say in that section especially.
All right, now let’s begin. The first section, I say, concerns the troubles of Paul and his consolation in Christ. Now look at his troubles, just briefly, we haven’t time to read the letter, but just looking at some of the things. Here in the eighth and the ninth verses of the first chapter, look at him as he says:
Brethren, we would not have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: for we had the sentence of death in ourselves.
[2 Corinthians 1:8-9]
All right, turn again to the fourth chapter. Look at the eighth and the ninth verses there:
We are troubled on every side… we are perplexed… we are persecuted… we are cast down… Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus…
[2 Corinthians 4:8-10]
Now those are just some phrases taken almost at random, of the trial and the trouble and the tribulation, the illness, the sorrow, the sentence of death that he faced in his ministry in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia.
Now, we need great sustaining truths to face the ordeal and the reality of life. You can’t live your life without those great, sustained truths. Life is a tragedy. Life is a trial. Life is a conflict and eventually, and ultimately, a most terrible and awesome one. The child is dead, the son is killed, the savings are gone; the family circle is broken. Our hearts are torn in two. My health is spent. My opportunity is passed. That is life. The very earth conspires against us. We sow, but there’s no harvest. We plow, but it’s like water. The very air is filled with darkness and coldness and the mocking of death.
I say, to face life, we need great sustaining truths, realities. Well, what are they? What sustained Paul? This is it. Look at the last three verses of the fourth chapter and the beginning of the fifth. Look at Paul as he says:
For which cause we faint not—
we are not Christ—
though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens . . .
He that wrought this thing for us is God, who also hath given us the earnest of His Spirit.
[2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 5:1, 5]
What a magnificent, incomparable faith! These are the temporalities: our tears, and our sorrows, and our heartaches. These flowers, and this casket, and that open grave, and this broken family, and this loneliness of heart and life; these are the temporalities. But these are the eternities: God and Christ and the Word and promise of the Book; Jesus and heaven and the life that is to come—these never pass away. For if our earthly house of this tabernacle, if the house I live in itself be dissolved, we have more houses than one. This house is just a shell. It’s an incrustation. This house is just a framework.
Paul was a tentmaker, and he uses a word there, “the tabernacle of this house” [2 Corinthians 5:1], the tent of this house. If it grows old and dies, why, fine, triumphantly would say the apostle Paul. It just means we’re out of our prison. It means we’re done with this bitter scoop. It means we’ve just been liberated to go home to be with God. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19], just fall down dead, and no God to welcome us; and no Christ to bid us home, and no Master to say “well-done.”
“No,” said Paul, “that’s the faith of the infidel. No,” says Paul, “if our earthly house fall and decay and dissolve, we have another house . . . [2 Corinthians 5:1]. He that hath wrought this thing is God, who also hath given the earnest of the Spirit” [2 Corinthians 5:5]. How do you know these are things true, the eternities? Paul says we have an earnest, already, the Spirit of God that is in our hearts, that consoles our souls. “Earnest” is the money that means all of the rest. It’s the promise, and that’s the seal [2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15]. The blade, when Paul saw it break through the ground, that was the cornfield, it was the whole harvest. One experience of joy, one touch of Christ, and it meant all heaven that is to come. “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning” [Psalm 30:5]. That’s the faith and the consolation of a Christian. That’s the sustaining truth that held Paul. All right, that’s the first part of his letter, and we’ll be preaching through that as the Sundays come [2 Corinthians 1:1-7:16].
Now the second part of his letter is eight and nine, chapters 8 and 9 [2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15]: and I say they have to do with the collection. Now, how it came about was this. Paul had been to Corinth, and he had laid upon their hearts this appeal, stewardship appeal what we call it. And they were eager to respond, and ready to respond, and did respond. They promised, faithfully, wonderfully, magnificently. Well, a solid year passed. And they hadn’t done anything. They hadn’t given anything. They had just made a magnificent promise. So, in the meantime—in that year that passed after they had said they were going to do such marvelous things, in the meantime—Paul had been among the churches of Macedonia. Corinth, down there in the Peloponnesus; and, way up here beyond Achaia in Macedonia—he’d been up there. And wherever he went, Paul boasted of what the people in Corinth had done. “Oh, they are magnificent philanthropists. They responded gloriously,” said Paul.
Now, a whole year has passed, and they haven’t done anything. But what made it terrible for Paul was this. In his visit to the church at Corinth, now coming up, a group of those brethren from Macedonia were coming with him. And he’d just been saying up there in Macedonia, what great things the church at Corinth had done, and had encouraged them to be liberal by what Corinth had done. And now, after a solid year, Corinth hadn’t done anything. And the brethren from Macedonia were coming with him. And Paul was—well, there’s a lot of things you could describe about that—what a situation he was in. So he writes them a letter.
Now, to me, a thing like that is very interesting, very interesting. Because Paul, he’s a man, don’t forget, just like all the rest of us; very interesting when Paul gets in a situation like that. Now I say it’s interesting because I’d just be curious if for no other reason than to see what he’d do about a situation such as that. Here is a man of tremendous intellect. Here is a man that can use language in the most magnificent manner, in a glorious, glorious way. And here is a man that can wrestle with deep, profound, spiritual doctrines. There just wasn’t anybody that could grasp eternal truth like Paul.
Well, what’s he going to do about that? How’s he going to get money out of those skinflints and tightwads at Corinth? Now that’s what it amounts to. How’s he going to do it? How’s he going to do it? Well, I say it’s interesting. Now just a little brief resume of it, how he did it. Here’s how he did it. He did it in two ways. First, he told them what had happened, which is always a good thing—just be open and aboveboard and frank. “This is the fact.” “This is the truth.” Tell the folks. Tell the folks. Just lay it before them—the whole thing. What do we need, and how is this thing developed—just tell the people. Surprise you, just remarkable how the people will respond, how they will.
Well sir, he just laid the whole thing before them. And he said, “Because of this appeal that I made to Macedonia”—now he’s going to turn it around. He’s going to tell Corinth what Macedonia has done, and he’s going to encourage Corinth by the example of the churches of Macedonia. He said: “Up there in Macedonia, that country’s been ravaged by war, three devastating wars. And not only that, but they have been so ground down in that Greco-Roman province of Macedonia until they even made appeal to Tiberius Caesar that they be changed from the administration of the Roman Senate and placed under the imperial administration of the emperor himself. They were so poverty stricken.” They were done for. They had nothing, “But,” says Paul, “out of that abject poverty and out of their deep want and physical necessities, they astonished us by their liberality” [2 Corinthians 8:2]. And then his reason for it; “This they did, not anything like we thought for. Why, we never dreamed of such a thing. But first, they gave their own selves to the Lord, then they gave, according to the will of God,” 2 Corinthians 8:5.
Oh, I guess when the time comes, I’ll preach a sermon on that, I suppose. But just by passing, it’s toilsome, and it’s hard to work and to give where your heart’s not, if your heart’s not in it. What you give is like wringing it out. And what you do is a toilsome, burdensome thing. But turn it around. If your heart’s in it, and if your soul is for it, and if you’re given to it; to work for it, and to support it is a joy and a gladness, incomparable. Isn’t that right? It’s easy to give to God, if first I’ve given myself to God.
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” [Matthew 6:21]. May I turn it around, which will be equally true? Where your heart is, your treasure will follow. They first gave themselves to God. Then they gave easily, willingly, triumphantly, gloriously [2 Corinthians 8:5]. If you love this church and the preaching of this gospel, and the world evangelization in the name of Christ, to support it, to give to it, to share in it is a privilege. “Why, pastor, I wouldn’t be denied it.” If somebody were come along this fall and say, “So you going to have a $700,000 budget; is that right? Well, here; here’s a check, $700,000 all raised in one gift. Now, tell the people they don’t have to give anything. And yourself, take what you have and spend it on something else. Go out and buy something, take a trip.” Would you respond? Would you? Wouldn’t you stand up and say: “Pastor, that’s not right. My soul cries against that. I want to have a part. My soul wants to.” Well, that’s what it is.
Then the other is this, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” And this was his other appeal. One, by what Macedonia done, now the other, what Christ has done, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” [2 Corinthians 8:9]. What Christ has done for us; we will do something for Him. And good Dr. Fowler, you quote that verse so often when you pray, and it’s the sweetest verse in the whole Book.
All right, that’s the collection [2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15]. Now the last part; the last part—you just go to a different world; you’re not in the same world. Chapters 10, 11, 12 and 13: those chapters are a vindication of his ministry. It is a defense of his apostleship [2 Corinthians 10:1-13:14]. There just wasn’t anything they didn’t say about Paul. They called him everything under high heaven, and they hounded him to death. No matter where he went, there was that group. For example, just to take one, in the tenth verse of the tenth chapter here, he quotes something that his enemies say about him, “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful”; he can surely write a good letter, “but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible!” [2 Corinthians 10:10].
Can you imagine saying that about the apostle Paul? His bodily presence, he looks like a shrimp. He doesn’t even look like a good, fat one. He looks like a half-starved, sorry shrimp. “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” Why, to listen to him is like listening to the ravings of an idiot. Ah, that’s what they said about Paul! That’s just one thing they said about him. And this is a nice thing they said. Other things, unprintable, they said about him. Well, there’s a whole lot of things like that. So, that forced Paul into doing something that he calls foolish [2 Corinthians 11:21].
Now, in the eleventh chapter you will find that foolishness. He calls it foolishness. It forces him to do something he doesn’t like to do. It forced Paul to speak of himself and his ministry and what he had done to vindicate his apostleship. Well, that’s interesting to me too, to see a man like the apostle Paul forced in a position like that. I say, that’s interesting too. I’ll tell you something about Paul. Even when he stoops, his altitude is higher than that of any other man that I know. Paul here is bowing down.
All right, look what he’ll say to start off with. Twelfth verse there, just briefly here—in the eleventh chapter of 2 Corinthians:
But what I do, that I have to do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion…
They are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
And no marvel; the devil himself is transformed into an angel of light.
Therefore it is no great matter if his ministers also be transformed.
[2 Corinthians 11:12-15]
Isn’t that strange? Satan has his ministers, his preachers, his pulpiteers. Isn’t that amazing? No great thing if his ministers also be transformed into very messengers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works. “I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord”—this thing I’m going to do, it isn’t the thing that honors God, this boasting and defending—“but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. All right, seeing that you like foolish things, why, I will start” [2 Corinthians 11:16-18].
Then he starts in the defense of his ministry. And my soul, look what he says. Look what he says, “Are they ministers of Christ? I am too, and a better one and more.” Isn’t that funny how you can quote a fellow? You can take that sentence and say, did you hear what that preacher said about himself? And I’m reading from the Bible. Paul said that, “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one foolish.) I am a better one,” I am more of a minister of Christ, “in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft” [2 Corinthians 11:23]. Twenty-eighth verse: “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” [2 Corinthians 11:28].
And what are his wages? What did he get out of it? What payment did he receive? “Five times,” he says:
received I forty stripes save one.
Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
In journeyings often, in perils of waters, of robbers, of mine countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in the city, in the wilderness, in the sea, among false brethren;
In weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
[2 Corinthians 11:24-27]
“Those are my wages. That is what I got out of it. And they were paid faithfully and regularly, those wages.” That’s what Paul says.
Oh, compare your life with him. Was I ever beat forty stripes save one? One time? Much less five? No! That’s a blank. “Thrice was I beaten with rods?” I’ve never been beat with rods. There’s another blank. “Once was I stoned,” and I’ve never been stoned. And that’s a blank. “I have suffered shipwreck, a day and a night I floundered in the deep of the dark cold waters.” Another blank, I never did that. Hunger, thirsting, cold and nakedness—Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul—when I put my life by the side of yours, it’s a nothing. It’s a blank. Nothing! Nothing! Nothing! Zero, zero, zero!
All right, then his last appeal; it’s in the thirteenth chapter, the last chapter of the Book. In the vindication of his apostleship, in defense of his ministry, now look at it. The fifth and the sixth verses [2 Corinthians 13:5-6]. One of the most unusual turns I ever read in my life. You don’t get it at all when I read it here in this English, but you wait a minute. You wait a minute. We’re going to take those Greek words.
All right, this is what he says—now, I’m reading from the King James Version. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates” [2 Corinthians 13:5-6]. Now that word “reprobate.” Oh, you don’t get the idea at all! A reprobate is a man that is just as bad as he can be; a reprobate—just as bad, bad as he can be. But there’s no thought of that in this text. Now this is it, “Examine yourselves, prove yourselves,” dokimazō, dokimazō—test your own self. Search your own soul. Look into your own heart. Examine yourself—dokimazō. Try and test yourself. Then after you have done it, I hope you will see that we are not adokimos—that we do not pass the test; that we cannot stand the examination; that we are unproved and untried [2 Corinthians 13:5-6].
It’s a play on the word dokimazō. You examine yourself—this is what he says first—you examine yourself. You look into your own heart. You search your own motives. Then I trust, when you compare it with us, we will not be adokimos, unable to pass the test. So, let’s apply that. That is why it is written in the Book. Examine yourself, my friend, my brother; look in your own soul, then examine us, and see if we cannot pass the test. See if we are adokimos, alpha privative—adokimos, that we cannot pass it [2 Corinthians 13:5-6].
And we pray, humbly, that God’s blessings shall be upon us, as we worship in our way, singing like we sing, and having services, as we try to have our services. No, like Lincoln said, “With malice towards none, with charity for all.”
All right, while we sing our song, somebody give his life to Jesus, you come. Somebody put his life with us in this church, you come. As God shall say the word and make the appeal, you come. A whole family of you, one somebody you, in the balcony around, in this lower floor, while we sing the appeal, while we tarry just a moment, you come. Into the aisle and down here by me, “Pastor today I take the Lord as my Savior, today putting our lives with you in the church.” While we sing the song, you come, while we stand and while we sing.
SECOND LETTER TO CORINTH
I. Chapters 1-7: Paul’s trials and
troubles (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 4:8-9)
We need great sustaining truths to face the ordeal and reality of life(2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1)
The temporalities – the suffering, tears, heartache
The eternities – the Word and promise of God, Jesus, heaven, the life to come
i. The tabernacle of
this house(1 Corinthians 15:19)
has given us the earnest of His Spirit (2
II. Chapters 8-9: the collection
had made a magnificent promise; yet a full year had passed and they had not
writes to them concerning the collection
to what others have done – the church of Macedonia(2
Corinthians 8:5, Matthew 6:21)
to the example of Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9)
III. Chapters 10-13: the defense,
vindication of Paul’s apostleship
enemies said many things about him (2 Corinthians
He was forced to recount his own work (2
First defends himself by his record (2 Corinthians
– test your own self, search your own soul
– we don’t pass the test; we are unproved and untried
Search your heart, and when you compared it with us we will not be unable to
pass a test
Great seminary professor, a pacifist
Endowed salary, investments and securities, home and children
But who protects and secures his family and wealth?
Church in Dallas says they are desegregated, yet built their church in most
exclusive white residential district
church in New York City, preacher believed in integration; had one Negro in the
a. It was located near
Harlem, with hundreds of thousands of Negros
b. It is integration
for somebody else
more or less for a house because of the neighborhood
Every man has the privilege and opportunity, under God, to choose those around
which he’s going to build the circle of his home and family(Acts 17:26)
the slave was liberated, the colored people wanted their own churches and own
preachers – they carry on their own work gloriously
a. Those who stir up
church a missionary-hearted church
a. Our mission to
colored people – asked to remove it
b. We extend our hands
and hearts of love – any way we can help