A Defense of the Apostolic Ministry
Philippe R. Sterling
Jesus builds the Church on the foundation of apostolic ministry such as that of Paul who was given apostolic authority by the Lord (see 13:10).
We can infer the following matters concerning Paul’s letters and visits to the church at Corinth:
- First Visit: Paul founded and established the church in Corinth during his second missionary journey spending eighteen months there (Acts 18:1-11).
- Previous Letter: Paul wrote a letter (lost) telling the church not to associate with immoral believers (1 Cor 5:9).
- First Corinthians: Paul wrote First Corinthians from Ephesus during his third missionary journey to deal with a number of problems in the church reported to him and to answer doctrinal and practical questions sent to him in a letter from Corinth.
- Painful Visit: Paul made a painful visit to Corinth but failed to accomplish his purpose (inferred from 2 Cor 2:1; 12:14; 13:1-2).
- Severe Letter: Paul sent a “sorrowful” letter (lost) to Corinth by Titus (2 Cor 2:4).
- Second Corinthians: Titus met with Paul in Macedonia with a good report from Corinth and in response Paul wrote Second Corinthians (2 Cor 7:5-13).
- Third Visit: Paul likely made a third visit to Corinth towards the close of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-3).
Second Corinthians is the most autobiographical of the letters of Paul.
Literary Structure and Content
I. Greeting: Paul presents himself as an apostle of Christ by the will of God who is addressing the church of
God which is at Corinth (1:1-2).
II. Thanksgiving: Paul blesses the God of all comfort who comforts believers in all their afflictions so that they also
can comfort others in their afflictions, and relates his own experience of comfort in his affliction (1:3-11).
III. Explanation — The Apology of Paul: The Apostle Paul presents a defense of his conduct and calling to
the Corinthians (1:12–7:16).
A. Paul defends his conduct (1:11–2:17).
1. The Change in Plans: Some accused Paul of vacillation when he changed plans to visit Corinth but he had
the pure motives of sparing further sorrow both to the Corinthians and to himself (1:12–2:4).
a. Paul had pure motives (12-14).
b. Paul defends himself against the accusation of vacillation when he failed to follow through on plans to
visit Corinth by pointing to the faithfulness of God (15-22).
c. Paul changed his plans to go to Corinth to spare further sorrow both to the Corinthians and to himself
2. The Case of the Offender: An offender who had caused sorrow and responded well to church
discipline should be forgiven, comforted and reaffirmed (2:5-11).
3. Parenthesis: Paul give thanks to God who always leads His servants who faithfully proclaim His
word in triumph in Christ (2:12-17).
B. Paul defends his calling (3:1–6:10).
1. The Glory of the Ministry: God has called the Apostles to a new covenant ministry in the Spirit that is
more glorious than that of the Mosaic covenant (3:1–4:6).
2. The Weakness of the Ministry: The Apostolic ministry is carried out amidst much suffering, in
human weakness, and requires faithful diligence that will be properly recompensed at the judgment
seat of Christ (4:7–5:10).
3. The Practice of the Ministry: The ministry calls for proper motives, right message, and commending
a. Motives: The fear of the Lord, care for others and the love of Christ properly impels ministry (5:11-15).
b. Message: God has entrusted His ambassadors with a message of reconciliation (5:17-21).
c. Manner: God’s ambassadors are to conduct themselves well in all circumstances as servants of God
C. Appeal: Paul appeals for reconciliation with the Corinthians and their separation from the defilement of the
D. Comfort: Paul experienced comfort and joy from the report of Titus concerning the Corinthians (7:2-16).
IV. Instruction — The Arrangement for the Offering: Paul gives instruction for the special offering for the believers
in Jerusalem (8:1–9:15).
A. Example: Macedonia overflowed in the grace of giving (8:1-6).
B. Exhortation: Paul encourages the Corinthians to abound in the grace of giving as they abound in everything
C. Preparation: Paul endorses the messengers who are handling the offering and urges the Corinthians to be
well-prepared with a bountiful gift at their coming (8:16–9:5).
D. Explanation: Generous giving is a good thing that God enables (9:6-14).
E. Illustration: The greatest example of generous giving is the gift of Christ (9:15).
V. Exhortation—The Authority of Paul: Paul exercises his apostolic authority in exhorting the Corinthians (10:1–13:11).
A. Apostolic Activity: Paul answers the accusations that have been placed against him and points out the sphere
of his apostolic activity (10:1-18).
1. Accusations: Paul answers the accusations of meekness when present and boldness when absent,
weighty letters and unimpressive presence by pointing out that his apostolic authority does not rest in
the flesh but in Christ (10:1-11).
2. Activity: God apportioned to Paul to be the first to preach the gospel to the Corinthians and to regions
B. Apostolic Credentials: Paul’s knowledge, sacrificial service, sufferings, visions, and attesting signs all
support the genuineness of his apostleship (11:1–12:18).
C. Apostolic Exhortation: Paul exhorts the Corinthians to do what is right so that when he is present with them
he need not use severity in accordance with his apostolic authority 12:19–13:10).
D. Farewell Exhortations: Paul exhorts the brethren to be in order, be comforted, be likeminded, and be at
peace so that the God of love and peace may be with them (13:11).
VI. Greetings: Paul encourages the Corinthians to greet each other with affection and conveys the greetings of
fellow believers (13:12-13).
VII. Benediction: Paul extends the love, grace, and fellowship of the Triune God (13:14).
Theological Reflection and Application
The following are a few doctrinal and practical applications from Second Corinthians:
- Our ministry is glorious (3:7-11).
- The New Testament believer is not under the law (3:7, 11).
- We are not to draw attention to ourselves but to Christ (4:5).
- Human weakness is not a barrier to serving Christ (4:7, 10, 11).
- God provides sufficient grace for every trial (4:8-9).
- A key to serving Christ is denial of self for others (4:12).
- The aim of life is not worldly success but to be pleasing to Christ (5:9).
- The judgment seat of Christ is a legitimate motive for service (5:10).
- God has committed to us the message of reconciliation (5:19).
- The example of others is a legitimate encouragement to giving (8:1).
- Poverty is not an excuse for not giving (8:2-3).
- Giving produces thanksgiving (9:11-13).
- We are in a spiritual battle (10:3-5).
- False teachers victimize people (11:19-20).
- There are occasions when it is necessary to present credentials (12:11-12).