Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth gives us a glimpse into his deeply personal and tumultuous relationship with this gathering of Jesus-followers. The letter we know as 2 Corinthians further reveals the triumphs and struggles that result when life in the present age meets up with the in-breaking reality of God’s kingdom. Here we see Paul working to repair relationships, explain various changes in travel plans, make practical arrangements for collecting a gift for the struggling believers in Jerusalem, and directly confront challenges to his own leadership by the self-proclaimed “super-apostles.”
In the four main parts of the letter, each introduced by a reference to a place, Paul envisions himself in different locations, recalling or anticipating his relationship with the Corinthians. The single theme running through these sections is that God will comfort us in all our troubles, and we will offer this comfort to each other. This models the life of Jesus himself, who suffered first and then was comforted. Like the crucified Messiah, we are weak, yet we live in God’s power.
In the final section, however, Paul feels he has no choice but to make the Corinthians uncomfortable, to help them face their present condition. But he ends the letter hopefully, calling on them to rejoice in God’s grace, love and fellowship.