2 Corinthians Introduction
2 Cor introduction…
What was Corinth like? Ceasar colonized the city with persons belonging predominately to the “freedman class” and with some soldiers. As a result the city had a mixed ethnic population that included descendants from the original Greek population, as well as former slaves from everywhere in the world—Egypt, Syria, Judea, and elsewhere.
In the time of Paul, one third of the population consisted of slaves, and Corinth was a main depot for the slave trade in the Aegean.
The population was VERY diverse and was trying to be more established. What were some of the major attractions at Corinth?
Corinth also presided over the Isthmian games, having taken over control from Sicyon. It was a major festival honoring the sea god Poseidon and attracted hosts of people every other spring. Dio Chrysostom relates how the philosopher Diogenes, who had moved to Corinth, observed the vast crowds attending the Isthmian games. His description of that visit is probably strongly influenced by Dio’s own experiences there:
That was the time, too, when one could hear crowds of wretched sophists around Poseidon’s temple shouting and reviling one another, and their disciples, as they were called, fighting with one another, many writers reading aloud their stupid works, many poets reciting their poems while others applauded them, many jugglers showing their tricks, many fortune-tellers interpreting fortunes, lawyers innumerable perverting judgment, and peddlers not a few peddling whatever they happened to have.
Many inhabitants of Corinth were prosperous, and “wealth and ostentatious display became the hallmark of Corinth.” Kinda Las Vegas back then… or any major city. Many other inhabitants were also impoverished. A writer from the second century explained why he did not go to Corinth: “I learned in a short time the nauseating behavior of the rich and the misery of the poor.” Because the city was relatively new, its aristocracy was fluid. Since it was refounded largely as a freedman’s city, upward social mobility was more attainable than in other more established cities of the empire with their entrenched aristocracies. Socially ambitious Corinthians could seize the opportunity to advance themselves. As a result, there was an even greater preoccupation with the symbols of social status in this city. The citizens were obsessed with their status and their ascent up the ladder of honor. Savage asks, “What kind of people created such a city?” His answer: people “impressed with material splendour and intent on raising their standing in the world.” In this society one can only rise via a “combination of patronage, marriage, wealth, and patient cultivation of connections.”
So we see that much of the materialism and emphasis on status that exists today was just as rampant back then. The rich oppressing the poor, people stepping on others as they climbed the accessible social ladder all took place in Corinth.
Paul loved the believers who lived in Corinth. He loved them so much he could not stand for them to attain to anything but the best that God had for them.
He wanted the best for them. He wanted them to live up to their full potential. He wanted them to live as more than human.
That is what we are calling our series on 2 Cor is more than human. We are calling it that for a few different reasons. 1. As believers we are not simply people. We are more than that. There is more to us than flesh and bones and a mind. There is something special about us. That thing that is special about us is not do to anything we have or did, no we are special because of the ONE in us. So, because of that we are not to live like everyone else. 2. We are more than human because we have a different set of values. Not just different, disparate. Paul was dealing with the Corinthians in trying to deal with this set of values. I chose 2 Cor for a specific reason. Logically, we should do 1 Cor… but there is something special about the second book. 2 Cor is not dealing with theology like 1 Cor or Romans etc, instead, 2 Cor deals specifically in Corinthian cultural values that clashed with Christian values he wanted them to adopt. Most of you guys and girls know theology. Ignorance is not your problem nor is it mine. No, I have come to know you folks over the last 10 months and it seems you problems are quite similar to mine when it comes to godliness. We know what is technically “right and wrong” but we sometimes approach our New Life in Christ with the same Old values of godlessness.
You and I live in a world that says if you are doing things right good things will happen to you. So we would expect that if we are brought into a religion that claims surpassing glory and power then we would have everything we would or could ever want.
But that is not how things work. God, who is the source of EVERY good thing, is not our fount of health, wealth, and exaltation as well as the source of personal status and honor. You see, the cross changed our values and expectations. Paul is calling them to be crucified but they are not ready for that yet. To them they think that religion should exalt a person, but Paul tells them
Paul consistently attempts to reverse the honor/shame value system that corrupts the Corinthians’ grasp of the gospel so as to root out arrogance and power mongering.
Today, we may revere Paul for his determined hard work for the gospel that endured the suffering of imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, poverty, and fatigue to further its reach into the world. These things did not sap his love for God or his commitment to the cause of Christ. Rather, they only whetted his zeal to do more. Some Corinthians apparently did not share the same appreciation for this selfless suffering. To them Paul cut a shabby figure. Religion, in their mind, is supposed to lift people up, not weigh them down with suffering. They may well have asked how someone so frail, so afflicted, so stumbling in his speech and visibly afflicted with a thorn in the flesh could be a sufficient agent for the power of God’s glorious gospel. Paul writes an impressive letter, but his physical presence is disappointingly unimpressive. He is too reticent to boast and to act forcefully. His refusal to accept their financial support and allowing himself to be demeaned as a poor laborer reflected badly on them as well. Such unconventional behavior betrays a lack of dignity appropriate for an apostle. He insists, however, that his refusal to accept their support does not mean that he does not love them or that he intends to slight them in some way. It does reveal that his practice has become a sore spot. His sardonic riposte, “Have I committed a sin by preaching the gospel to you without charge?” (11:7) and “Forgive me this wrong!” (12:7) reflects the tension. Paul’s catalog of hardships in 6:8–10 may sum up the Corinthians’ complaints about him:
Through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.