In 2 Corinthians (I wrote a bit about the church’s historical background in my previous post), Paul basically wrote to defend his ministry (and also to encourage the Corinthians to give generously).The church in Corinth had begun to mistrust Paul because they had been listening to some false “super apostles” who were teaching them lies and pointing toward themselves and their false doctrine:
…I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you.
2 Corinthians 11:2-6
So Paul spends almost the entire letter showing the Corinthians that his proven godly character, faith, and heart toward them made him worthy of their pure devotion to the gospel he had preached:
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
2 Corinthians 4:5
We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.
2 Corinthians 5:12
Unlike the false apostles, Paul wasn’t trying to point toward himself, but always to Christ.
Another reason why the Corinthians should trust Paul was because he was willing to suffer for them, just like Jesus:
We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…
2 Corinthians 6:3-5
Additionally, the false apostles couldn’t give the Corinthians anything that was good for them. But Paul led them to receive the Holy Spirit, which brought them life.
…and you show yourselves that you are a letter of Christ; prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God…Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthians 3:2-6
The Corinthians themselves were proof that Paul was worthy of their affection.
This pleading and reminders of Paul’s faithfulness reminds me of how God often reminded His people in the Old Testament of His proven love for them so that they would be obedient to Him:
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
To me, Paul is an incredible guy because of his great love for people! Even though Paul was super mature in the faith and deeply spiritual, he did not use that as a reason to “lord it over them” in the same way God did not “lord it over” His people. Paul, like God, always wanted to meet people wherever they were at, whether struggling with sin or super spiritual, for the pure purpose of relationship:
I do not mean to imply that we lord it over your faith; rather, we are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in the faith.
2 Corinthians 1:24
Paul’s humility is so evident in all of his letters especially this one to the Corinthians. He viewed the Corinthians, who were still very immature in their walks according to 1 Corinthians 3:1, through Christ’s eyes. He didn’t see them for their weaknesses or failures and use that as a reason to put walls up in his heart out of protection or some superiority complex.
On the contrary, Paul remained vulnerable and open to them. It was the Corinthians, however, who had hardened their hearts toward God and Paul:
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
2 Corinthians 6:11-13
Studying Paul’s character and heart has showed me that he really isn’t the prideful, arrogant and abrupt guy I initially thought he was when I first read his letters a few years ago. He truly exemplifies the type of love that Christ had (and still has) for people. Everything he did, he did out of love. This is the kind of deep love and humility I aspire to!
Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up.
2 Corinthians 12:19