If 1 Corinthians gives us unparalleled insight into the everyday life of a New Testament church, 2 Corinthians offers us a unique glimpse into the heart and soul of the apostle whose work founded and built that church. We see Paul at work, teaching and exemplifying transparency, joy, good relationships, sincerity, reputation, service, humility, leadership, performance and accountability, reconciliation, working with nonbelievers, encouragement, generosity, timely fulfillment of obligations, and the proper use of wealth.
These workplace topics arose because of the daily struggles and opportunities Paul encountered in his own work as an apostle. During the period leading up to the composition of 2 Corinthians, Paul faced any number of “disputes without and fears within,” as he describes them (2 Cor. 7:5). These clearly left their mark on him, and the result is a letter like no other in the New Testament—intensely personal, exhibiting a full range of emotions from anguish and agitation to exuberance and confidence. As a result of this adversity, Paul became a more effective leader and worker. All those who want to learn how to be more effective in their work—and who are willing to trust God for the ability to do so—will find a practical model in Paul and his teachings in 2 Corinthians.
Paul’s Interactions with the Church in Corinth (2 Corinthians)
In the introduction to 1 Corinthians we noted that Paul established the church of Corinth during his first sojourn there (winter 49/50 through summer 51). Later he wrote one letter to the Corinthian church that no longer exists (it is mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9) and one letter that does—our 1 Corinthians. He also visited the church three times (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1). We know from Romans 16:1 that Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans during one of his stays in Corinth.
Nonetheless, Paul’s relationship with the church in Corinth was strained. At one point he wrote them what has come to be known as the “severe letter”1—that apparently was quite harsh (see 2 Cor. 2:4). He sent it off to the Corinthians with Titus in the hope it would bring about a change of heart among his antagonists in Corinth. The unresolved conflict with the church in Corinth made Paul restless as he waited to hear back from them (2 Cor. 1:12–13). When Titus finally arrived in the autumn of 55 he brought good news from Corinth. Paul’s severe letter had, in fact, proven to be remarkably beneficial. The believers in Corinth who had been the cause of so much sorrow were truly grieved about the rupture in their relationship with Paul, and their sorrow had led to repentance (2 Cor. 7:8–16).
In response to that news, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, or more precisely the first seven chapters, to express his joy and gratitude both to God and to the Corinthians for the restored relationship between them. In these chapters he models the kind of transparency, joy, attention to relationships, integrity, reputation, service, dependence on God, ethical conduct, character, and encouragement that God calls all Christians to embody. Following this, in chapters 8 and 9, he turns to the topics of generosity and timely fulfillment of obligations as he exhorts the Corinthians to contribute to the relief of Christians in Jerusalem, which they had promised to do. In this section Paul highlights how our needs are met by God’s generosity, not only so we lack nothing we need but also so we have plenty to share with others. In chapters 10 through 13 he describes the marks of godly leadership, apparently in response to disturbing news he received about so-called “super-apostles” who were leading some of the Corinthian church astray. Although we are not concerned here with church leadership per se, Paul’s words in this section are directly applicable to all workplaces.
See Charles H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (New York: Crossroad, 1987), xviii–xxi.
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