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Preaching on 2 Corinthians

An overview of the historical background and theology of 2 Corinthians to help you develop your sermon series and apply it to your hearers.
Preaching on 2 Corinthians
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Historical Background

Corinth, like many other seaports throughout history, was decadent. The city stood at an isthmus, joining mainland Greece with the southern Peloponnese, ancient home of the Spartans. Ships heading east from Rome found it natural to stop there, especially since they could have their goods transferred overland, sparing them the longer voyage around the rocky, stormy cape to the south.

While prosperous materially, Corinth’s moral reputation was so unsavory that a verb, “to corinthianize” (i.e., to live a promiscuous life), gained currency.

The Corinthian citizens believed themselves to be sophisticated, progressive thinkers, far-advanced beyond the simple folks who lived in the country away from metropolitan realities. With many nations represented in its social mix, Corinth was susceptible to cultural and ethnic rivalries. All these influences found their way into the Corinthian church, which was wracked by strife, twisted philosophies, and “liberated” views on sexuality.

Paul had made it to Corinth on his third missionary journey to Europe, working his way down the coast, through Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, and Athens (Acts 18:1-17). Each of these other cities was something of a disappointment, whether through indifference to the proclamation of the gospel or outright opposition. But in Corinth, despite early rejection by the local synagogue, he found a good meeting place, and, for 18 months, he planted a church there, with the assistance of Aquila and Priscilla, a Jewish couple exiled from Rome.

At a later time, correspondence was written between Paul and the church at Corinth. There was an initial letter from Paul to the Corinthians, now lost (1 Cor. 5:9), a letter from the Corinthians to Paul (1 Cor. 7:1), Paul’s reply to their letter, our 1 Corinthians, a subsequent “painful letter” (2 Cor. 2:3; 7:8) from Paul to the Corinthians, and a final letter from Paul to the Corinthians—our 2 Corinthians.

This “second letter” is probably written from Philippi after Paul received word from Titus concerning the first letter (2 Cor. 7:15-16) and was likely written around 55 or 56 AD. The letter is autobiographical in nature, giving the most in-depth look into Paul’s understanding of his ministry. It is, therefore, quite personal, its contents made of up of explanations, defense, protests, appeals, reproaches, and warnings. It appears that the Judaizing teachers had come to Corinth and were again undermining Paul’s work (2 Cor. 10:7; 11:13). These people had made false attacks and insulted Paul in every possible way. They intended to destroy Paul’s influence and establish themselves with the brethren. As such, Paul makes a detailed defense of his ministry.

Sermon Series

Paul's Defense of His Legitimacy as an Apostle (1:1–7:16)
  • Salutation (1:1–2)
  • Introduction to the letter, the God of all comfort (1:3–11)
  • Paul's boast, plans, and reality of ministry (1:12–2:4)
  • Forgive the sinner (2:5-11)
  • We are triumphant in Christ (2:12-17)
  • Paul's ministry of the new covenant as a ministry of the Spirit and application of Exodus 32-34 (3:1–18)
  • The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (4:1–6)
  • We do not lose heart in ministry (4:7-18)
  • Be of good courage, we will dwell with the Lord (5:1-10)
  • Engage in the ministry of reconciliation (5:11-6:13)
  • You are the temple of God (6:14-7:1)
  • Rejoicing in the growth of the church (7:2-16)
Paul's Appeal to the Repentant Church in Corinth Regarding the Collection (8:1–9:15)
  • The collection as the grace of God (8:1–15)
  • The commendation of Titus and the brothers (8:16–9:5)
  • Generosity, joy, and the glory of God (9:6–15)
Paul's Appeal to the Rebellious Minority in Corinth (10:1–13:10)
  • Paul's defense of his humility as an apostle (10:1–11)
  • Paul's defense of his authority as an apostle (10:12–18)
  • Paul's defense of his boasting like a fool (11:1–21a)
  • Paul's boast in his service and suffering (11:21b–33)
  • Paul's boast in his heavenly vision and subsequent weakness (12:1–13)
  • Paul's final defense and appeal to the rebellious (12:14–13:10)
Closing Greetings (13:11–14)
Big Ideas for Preaching

-God has granted authority to leaders (Paul defends his apostolic authority, and there is authority vested today in pastors, as well as members), let’s be sure we are operating as a church under the authority structures he designed.

-We must be a generous people, allowing the overflow of joy in God within us to look outward and gladly meet the needs of others.

-Christians need the heart of a servant, as ministers of a New Covenant. Paul models what true Christian maturity and leadership looks like, and speaks to the realities of the differences between the Old and New Covenant. We must take these matters into account as we think of leadership in the church and in general.

-We will suffer in ministry, but God is our comfort and he will sustain us.

-We have the treasure of the gospel of Jesus Christ and we are called to impart it to others, knowing some will receive it and some will reject it.


2 Corinthians 1:1-2:11

-Praise God for his character, his ministry to us in our suffering, and the fact that he produces endurance and character in us in the midst of suffering (Rom. 5:1-5; 8:28-29; Jam. 1:2-4).

-Do not try to be a people-pleaser (Gal. 1:10), live out your ministry and life with integrity in a way that seeks to please God.

-Work for the joy of others; love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.

-Be willing to confront sin and forgive the repentant.

2 Corinthians 2:12-3:18

-Look to increasingly sanctified character and the transforming work of the Spirit through the Word and prayer, as needful things in ministry, not your personality or success stories.

-The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is a lie, Christians will suffer in this life as Paul did.

-You become like what you behold. Behold Christ to become like Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:1-5:21

-Preach the realities of the gospel, namely, the glory of God in Christ, who is supreme as Savior, Lord, and Treasure.

-Look to Christ, the promises of God’s Word, and the future resurrection to renew hope in the midst of suffering.

-Recognize we will someday stand before God in judgment. Live accordingly.

-Be passionate about making disciples. If you feel love for people and passion for evangelism waning, read 2 Corinthians 5. Preach the gospel to yourself afresh, pray and fast for awakening, and go share the love of Christ and pour into the lives of others.

2 Corinthians 6:1-7:1

-Receive the gospel message of salvation.

-Endure all things, by God’s grace, for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of others (2 Tim. 2:10). What will you do in ministry? How will you endure?

-Fight the battle that we are so plainly in (Eph. 6:10-19; 2 Tim. 4:7; cf. Phil. 1:27-30).

-Watch your partnerships and relationships, they will impact your life.

-Know your identity as the temple of God and be pure.

2 Corinthians 7:2-8:24

-Give with a heart of love and joy in God, whether you are “poor” or “rich.”

-Know the way in which the Bible presents the work of the atonement from a number of angles (Christ became poor, substitute, sacrifice, propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, Christus exemplar, etc.). Substitution and sacrifice are central in defining the atonement, but it is important to know all the various realities that were accomplished by Christ on the cross.

2 Corinthians 9:1-10:18

-Give of your time, abilities, and money in a cheerful manner. If you are not presently, repent and keep giving of yourself until God works this miracle in you.

-Recognize that ability, looks, charisma, and other such worldly indicators do not necessarily highlight genuine holiness in a person. When looking for or looking to be a leader, be a person of genuine character, know your Bible well, and be desperate in prayer.

-Do not be arrogant, boast only in God and his greatness (watch out for the subtle humble brags).

2 Corinthians 11:1-33

-Do not work for the growth of your own glory, work for people to have open eyes to see the glories of God.

-Call false teachers what they are (cf. Titus 1:9-16).

-Ministry is absolutely joyful, but also hard in any form. Are you willing to persevere, love people, and see God do great things?

2 Corinthians 12:1-21

-Recognize God does give us gifts and strengths, by his grace, but he works through us best as we depend on him and recognize our own inherent weakness and limitations (cf. 1 Pet. 4:11-12).

-Bear up under hardship and live in such a way that God receives glory through extending grace to you.

-In ministry, spend yourself for the sake of others in love and thankfulness.

-Be willing to confront sin when it arises (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5).

2 Corinthians 13:1-14

-Do not be afraid to expect godliness of your people.

-Work hard at regenerate church membership, such that your people are “tested” at the onset and throughout their time as members. Value both membership and discipline.

-Pray for your people specifically and for the kinds of things the Bible prescribes (2 Cor. 13:7, 9).

-Live in the church the way God commands. You will mess up, but pursue repentance, reconciliation, and accountability with one another. We want to do this so that God will be with us in manifest ways.

Theological Themes

Forgiveness of sinners (2:5-11)

Many commentators believe this section may be referring to the man Paul commanded to be disciplined out of the church in 1 Corinthians. Whether it is that individual or someone else, Paul wants the Corinthians to be neither lax regarding discipline, nor unforgiving, and in this way be aware of Satan’s designs.

The New Covenant, its distinction from the old covenant, and how we are ministers of this New Covenant (3:1-18)

This provides an opportunity in preaching to go through the biblical covenants (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, New), speak of their respective content, highlight their development and trajectory, and give greatest detail regarding Christ inaugurating the New Covenant. This is also an opportunity to speak of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians, a key facet of the new covenant (Ezek. 36:25-27).

Eschatological glorification of our bodies and judgment before God (5:1-10)

In speaking of suffering as a Christian in this life, Paul assures his readers that we will someday be glorified, and therefore we should take heart. While we live in this present age we make it our aim to please God, knowing we will appear before God’s judgment seat.

The temple of God and its implications for Christian living (6:14-7:1)

God’s presence dwelling with his people (Eden, tabernacle, temple, Jesus, the church, new creation) is a major theme in Scripture. This is an opportunity to lay out that trajectory throughout Scripture, articulate what it means to be God’s temple, and also note specific applications to the Christian life as it relates to partnerships and making ourselves distinct from the world.

Christians must give to the church cheerfully and out of the abundance God gives to us. We do this, looking to Christ who for our sake became poor that we might become rich (8-9).

As such, there is room to discuss the details of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus as well as how that reality shapes our Christian living as it relates to generosity.

Suffering for the sake of the gospel and God’s sustaining power (11:18-33; 12:1-10)

This letter contains the most vivid portrayal of Paul’s sufferings linked with his gospel ministry. In all of this he is not boasting in his own strength or trying to conjure up pity from his audience; rather he takes the opportunity to boast in the sufficient grace of God, a theme we all need to hear again and again as we face difficult circumstances.

My Encounter with 2 Corinthians

A title and theme I go back to repeatedly in this book is “Upside-Down Dependence.” I derive this especially from 2 Corinthians 1:9, 4:7, and 12:8-10, which all highlight our need for dependence on God in all of life. I also note the “upside-down” nature of God’s kingdom in Paul’s interaction with the false teachers in Corinth. They are constantly boasting in themselves, but Paul continually points to his weaknesses as well as the cross of Christ to highlight that God uses weak things and weak people to accomplish his purposes.

The outline of the book I preached/taught from is derived from several commentaries. The details could certainly change, but it does seem clear the macro-structure of the book contains three main sections: Paul’s defense of his apostleship, the call to generosity, and his refutation of the false teachers.

2 Corinthians, to me, seems to be a neglected book in the overall preaching ministry of the church. It is the most personal of Paul’s letters and can seem a bit redundant at times, but the message of this book is so needful in church ministry today. We must be aware of our need of God, the power of the gospel, the content of the New Covenant, and the ways in which we can effectively minister to the local church. 2 Corinthians contains all of this and more.

My hope in going through this book is that we as God’s people would grow in our capacities to expend ourselves in joyful, generous love for others. That we would serve as ministers of a New Covenant, refute false teaching, and see our weaknesses as opportunities for God to be glorified. With the ultimate goal being that we will yearn to know God through Word and prayer and then passionately make him known to others.


D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007). (Not a commentary.)

David Garland, 2 Corinthians, NAC (Nashville: B&H, 1999).

George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015).

Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians, PCNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014).

Jeremy Kimble is Assistant Professor of Theology at Cedarville University and the author of '40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline' (Kregel, 2017).

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