Bible Study with Jairus – 2 Corinthians 1

1 Corinthians Is Spiritual Milk, while 2 Corinthians Is Solid Food

The book of 2 Corinthians helps believers gain a deeper understanding and experience of God as they grow in their spiritual lives. If 1 Corinthians is spiritual milk for infants, then the book of 2 Corinthians is full of solid food that boosts spiritual growth. I believe that 2 Corinthians is a continuation and expansion of the ideas presented in 1 Corinthians.

The book of 1 Corinthians dealt with several problems of spiritual immaturity, such as overemphasis on spiritual gifts (ch. 14), overemphasis on knowledge and truth (ch. 15). People on both sides needed to become more spiritually mature. 1 Corinthians 16 talks about Stephanas, a spiritually mature man. This content bridges naturally into the content of 2 Corinthians.

The book of 2 Corinthians teaches about spiritual maturity. Chapter 3 tells us that when we turn away from the law and toward the Lord, the veil is removed from our hearts. As we learn to know the Spirit of the Lord, we gain freedom. Our hearts become like mirrors that reflect the glory of the Lord as we are transformed into his image (3:16-18). These verses speak of a Christian’s deeper experience in his spiritual life.

After Paul dealt with the problems of spiritual immaturity in his first letter to the Corinthians, he began to lead believers into a deeper spiritual life and experience in 2 Corinthians. He told readers that this deeper spiritual life and experience was inseparable from the training of suffering. Paul shared his experiences of suffering many times in 2 Corinthians, telling the Corinthian church how these experiences had led him to become spiritually mature.

Summary of the Last Three Chapters of 1 Corinthians

 

Let’s briefly analyze the link between the last three chapters of 1 Corinthians and the first chapter of 2 Corinthians.

  • In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul dealt with those who were overemphasizing spiritual gifts. He encouraged them to not only pursue spiritual gifts, but also to care about others’ feelings and more importantly, to pursue love.
  • In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul dealt with those who were opposed to spiritual gifts and who were biased against the truth of resurrection because of their excessive pursuit of knowledge and truth and their lack of experiences of the risen Christ.
  • In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul highly recommended a man named Stephanas. He was baptized by Paul and was one of the first converts in Achaia. Apollos had also preached the gospel in Achaia, where he was helped and welcomed by the brothers. So Stephanas may have been a convert of both Paul’s and Apollos’ joint ministry.

Of course, there were many problems presented in 1 Corinthians, but when Paul dealt with these problems one by one, he provided solutions to their problems. The solutions were unity and love, which are two important themes of 1 Corinthians. (See the studies on 1 Corinthians for an in-depth explanation of these themes.) In 1 Corinthians, Paul dealt with the believers’ spiritual immaturity. The goal of 1 Corinthians was to free believers from spiritual infancy.

2 Corinthians 1 Continues the Train of Thought of 1 Corinthians

 

The book of 2 Corinthians continues the same train of thought. Although Paul also wrote several other letters to the Corinthian church, God sovereignly allowed them to be lost. However, the book that was preserved (2 Corinthians) continues the train of thought from 1 Corinthians.

In 2 Corinthians 1:1, we read that Paul and Timothy wrote to the church of God in Corinth and to the saints in Achaia. This verse is very interesting. As I mentioned earlier, Stephanas probably became one of the leaders of the Corinthian church. This is very important. When a church has a good leader, things go more smoothly. Since Stephanas was saved in Achaia, he probably had close ties with the saints in Achaia. Perhaps Stephanas played a very important role in bringing change to the Corinthian church.

According to the introduction of the “Comprehensive Bible Prayer Reading Website” (cmcbiblereading.com), the background of 2 Corinthians is as follows:

Paul first came to Corinth during his second missionary journey in A.D. 50-51. He worked with Aquila and Priscilla, preached the gospel there for a year and a half, and established the church (Acts 18:1-18). After Paul left Corinth in A.D. 51, he wrote the first letter to the Corinthian church, telling them to “have no fellowship with fornicators” (5:9-10), but this letter has been lost. During Paul’s stay in Ephesus on his third missionary journey, Chloe’s people brought a message that there was division in the Corinthian church (verse 11), and the church also wrote a letter to him (1 Corinthians 7:1), hoping that Paul would give them some guidance on problems. Paul may have written a second letter at Ephesus in A.D. 54, and 1 Corinthians as his answer (1 Corinthians 16:8-10; Acts 19:22). Later, the situation in the Corinthian church continued to deteriorate. Paul may have traveled directly from Ephesus to Corinth by boat (2 Corinthians 1:16), making a second brief visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 13:2; Acts 20:2). The visit was not very pleasant at the time. Afterwards, Paul wrote a third letter that was severe (2 Corinthians 2:4; 7:8), which was delivered by Titus, but was also lost. Later, Titus brought the news to Macedonia, saying that everything was alright (2 Corinthians 7:6-7). Paul was thus overflowed with joy and wrote the fourth letter in Macedonia in A.D. 56, which is “2 Corinthians” (2 Corinthians 2:12-14; Acts 20:1). After this, Paul probably visited the Corinthian church for the third time (2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1), and wrote the book of Galatians and Romans in Corinth in the winter of A.D. 56-57 (Acts 20:3).

 

This summary helps us see that although the Corinthian church had some problems, Paul worked tirelessly to help them. Through his efforts, their lives were transformed. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.”[1] Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians were addressed to the fleshly believers who were so spiritually immature that they could only drink spiritual milk.

What is spiritual immaturity? In addition to the sins of the flesh (competition, sexual immorality and gluttony, mentioned in the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians), spiritual immaturity also includes two additional aspects.

  • The first aspect is the excessive pursuit of spiritual gifts described in 1 Corinthians 14. Even today, some believers pursue spiritual gifts but neglect love and spiritual growth.
  • The second aspect is the overemphasis on truth described in 1 Corinthians 15. Though these Christians pursued knowledge and truth, they lacked a personal understanding of the risen Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. They may have even been against it. We see this problem in many traditional churches. In Chinese terms, these people are only “cultural Christians.” They lack a personal experience of Jesus.

The first type of church tends not have a solid foundation in God’s word and are more are easily deceived by the winds of teaching. The second type of church is often overly concerned with knowledge and truth, which leads to dogmatism and legalism. They often are against the work of the Holy Spirit. And they easily condemn others as heretics. These two extremes cause problems in Chinese churches and American churches alike.

It may surprise you to learn that these errors are a manifestation of spiritual immaturity, not of maturity. Paul told the Corinthians that it was difficult for him to lead them into deeper spiritual life and experience since they were stuck in immaturity. But the path toward maturity was inseparable from God’s training through suffering.

A Deeper Spiritual Life and Experience

 

After the believers’ spiritual immaturity was addressed in 1 Corinthians and the lost letters to the Corinthians, Paul could finally give the believers some solid food in 2 Corinthians. The solid food is not only obtained through suffering, but it also provides the sustenance we need to survive suffering. This concept is described in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.

In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul says that the life of Christ within us gives off the “aroma of Christ” (2:14) to those around us. This aroma brings life to some and death to others. When we testify to others, some believe in Christ and are brought back to life, while others oppose Christ and are left to die. What a privilege it is to represent Christ in this way. Jesus told his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23). This does not mean that we have the authority to forgive like God does. Rather, it means that God has given His authority to the church, and he has entrusted us with a tremendous responsibility. When we as Christians demonstrate a consistent Christian testimony to the world, others often believe in Christ as a result of our witness. When Christians do not have a testimony and do not love one another as what Jesus taught, the world stumbles and cannot see that we are His disciples (John 13: 35).

2 Corinthians 3 tells us that God can remove the veil from our hearts. When our heart turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Our hearts are like mirrors that reflect the glory of the Lord and transform us into His image. This is why Paul said believers are to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

2 Corinthians 4 talks about treasure in jars of clay (4:7). Although we are weak on the outside, we have a treasure within us, the resurrection life of Christ. Regardless of the difficulties we face in in our external environment, the resurrection life of Christ can help us be victorious.

2 Corinthians 5 tells us that we are new creations in Christ (5:17). Once we are saved, we are new in Christ. Yet many people do not live in the full knowledge and experience of this truth. Instead, they continue to live in past sins. So, Paul taught them not to look at past failures, but to look at the victory that was theirs in Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul encourages believers not to associate with idols, because believers in Christ are incompatible with idols and darkness. Instead, believers should pursue holiness (6:14-17).

2 Corinthians 7 continues to talk about the believer’s pursuit of holiness. In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul encourages believers to give generously to God’s work. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul teaches believers to destroy strongholds (10:4). In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul tells the believers to remain pure because they are pure virgins betrothed to Christ (11:2). In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul shares his experience of being caught up to the third heaven, and uses his own experience to testify about Christ. In 2 Corinthians 13, Paul explains that Jesus was crucified in weakness, but resurrected in power. When we are weak physically, we can be strengthened spiritually (13:4-9). Paul uses his own spiritual experience to teach the Corinthian believers to enter into a deeper spiritual experience. Paul shares his experiences of suffering as well. These sufferings trained him and helped him become spiritually mature.

Suffering is an Important Ingredient for Spiritual Maturity

 

Suffering is an integral part of our journey toward spiritual maturity. The book of Hebrews says that even the Lord Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Hebrews 12 tells us that God’s discipline, though painful, bears the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

Suffering has a positive effect on a person’s spiritual maturity, just like the storms encourage trees and vines to grow deeper roots. Once the sun comes out, we can see the benefit of these harsh weather conditions. The deeper the roots of the plant or tree, the more vigorously it can produce rich fruit.

Therefore, after a brief greeting in 2 Corinthians 1:1-2, Paul talks at length about suffering (vs. 3-11). His words about suffering are intense. Paul shares that the suffering he endured in Asia was so great that he felt that he could no longer live (vs. 8). His trust in God, who raises the dead, was the only way he was able to endure this great suffering.

Although Paul also talked about God’s comfort to believers who are suffering, this chapter gave some harsh truths. This “solid food” was not easy for immature believers to accept. But the readers of 2 Corinthians had grown considerably in their spiritual lives, and they were able to handle solid food.

The more we mature, the more we are able to handle suffering. After I dedicated myself to God, the difficulties in my life increased. God sent these difficulties to help me crucify my flesh, so that I could learn to experience the cross of Christ. These trials helped me grow spiritually. They helped me become more deeply rooted in the life of Jesus.

Around 2016, I experienced a breakthrough in my personal life. Our prayers were answered by God. Not only did we give birth to a miracle baby, but I also received the baptism of the Holy Spirit that I had been longing for. I once heard Brother Derek Prince say, “The most obvious manifestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not prophesying or speaking in tongues, but increasing difficulties.” My experience has proved this to be true. After receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the evil spirits began to attack me even more. My own flesh and the people around me began to attack me, causing never-ending trouble. But these troubles and difficulties were actually tools in God’s hands, helping me grow spiritually and learn more humility.

The Holy Spirit Guarantees a Rich Spiritual Life

In 2 Corinthians 1:20-22, Paul tells us that all God’s promises are Yes in Christ. Because we are joined to Christ, we are given His Spirit as a guarantee. What does this mean? It means that God’s promises are more amazing than we can imagine. He can do more than we ask or think. But when we are spiritual infants, we often do not access these promises or manifest them in our lives.

God has given us many promises to enjoy in Christ. But in order to experience them, we must grow spiritually. The seal of the Holy Spirit within us is like a sample, similar to the soil sample we get when we buy land. We need to not just settle for this sample, but to dig deep into all the riches we have in Christ.

I believe that the United States’ spiritual decline is a result of the church’s decline, which in turn is a result of the decline of every Christian’s faith and spiritual life. The decline in Christians’ spiritual lives comes from the fact that they never matured spiritually. They lost the power of their witness; their lights did not shine and their salt lost its flavor (Matthew 5:13-14).

I believe the fundamental reason for the degeneration of American society and the church is that American believers are not mature enough. This is the reason why anti-God forces can run rampant in the United States, even though the majority of the population professes Christianity. The teachings of 1 Corinthians are very important for the spiritual growth of today’s Christians, and for breaking away from the fleshly life.

Therefore, we urgently need to study these two letters, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. In them, Paul reveals a wealth of wisdom that helps us deal with the flesh, leave behind spiritual infancy, and enter a state of spiritual maturity. This is the theme of 2 Corinthians. As we study the rest of the chapters of 2 Corinthians, we will continue to explore how Paul’s teachings can help us become more spiritually mature.

[1] All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.