The Christian life is indeed one of paradox. What Jesus holds dear is opposite of what we in our natural states cling to.
Second Corinthians is a letter of opposites. It’s a letter about the adventurous faith of hanging all our hope on God, even though trusting our strength and pride to get us by almost always seems safer and more familiar. It’s about an abiding peace at the ocean floor of our souls that comes when our sins are no longer counted against us because God sent His Son Jesus into the world, who took our sins upon Himself. Paul calls this reconciliation.
When Paul arrived in the early A.D. 50s, Corinth was at the pinnacle of its development. A commercial epicenter of southern Greece, Corinth was thriving, wealthy, and steeped in a blend of Roman and Greek culture. The ancient city of Corinth boasted everything you could ever want. But as we know: having access to everything we could ever want doesn’t always end up being what we thought we wanted.
The richness of Corinth’s culture had its downside, as do our own modern day cities. Prostitution, slavery, and sexual perversion of all kinds coalesced within its territory. False gods were everywhere.
I find this letter so encouraging because if the church worked in Corinth, it can work in the places you and I inhabit. I admit that sometimes I think our world is too far gone with abuse, racism, and moral depravation. However, if the gospel of Jesus transformed Corinth’s prostitutes, oppressively wealthy, pagans, and synagogue leaders, then the good news of Jesus Christ can transform the people of our cities today. And though I’m tempted at times to think that God’s people are only found in religious settings, God had His people in Corinth. Just like He has you and me in the cultural settings we live in. Second Corinthians reminds us that God’s church shines most brightly in the darkness rather than in already-lit sanctuaries.
As you work your way through 2 Corinthians, be on the lookout for opposites. Note the way Paul unconditionally loves the Corinthians. As you consider the striking differences, never forget you’ve been empowered to live beautifully and blatantly set apart because—since Jesus’ death and resurrection—the old has gone, the new has come. Last time I checked, old and new are as opposite as they come.