3 Reasons You Should Preach Through 2 Corinthians
Our culture tells us to play to our strengths. We find ourselves in the midst of a kind of “strength revolution” that encourages muting any weakness, that demands we always put our best foot forward. But below the surface, the stubborn reality of our weakness remains. What will we do with it?
To answer that question, I want to encourage you to preach through the entire book of 2 Corinthians. Here’s how I’d summarize its main point in one sentence: God’s power is perfected in our weakness. Here are three reasons that you should preach through 2 Corinthians.
1. The gospel is good news for the weak.
Pastors, we may need this message more than anyone. We would do well to look to Paul as a living, breathing illustration of the power of God manifest through weakness. Paul was commissioned to minister by the power of God. He stands in stark contrast to the Corinthian teachers who had come into the church and seemed to have it all together. They charged him with being a fickle leader (1:17), of lacking proper letters of recommendation (3:1–3, of not being dynamic or charismatic in his preaching (3:12), of being a weakling (10:10). These attacks prompted Paul to write his fourth letter to this church, which is our canonical 2 Corinthians.
Paul warns that these new teachers with their self-sufficient and showy tactics were actually proclaiming another Jesus, by a different spirit, resulting in a different gospel (11:4). Like Satan, they had disguised themselves as angels of light (11:13–15). Paul by contrast says, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:17).
Pastors, what a good reminder that we are not peddlers of the Word, but gospel plodders, seeking to be faithful by proclaiming Christ and him crucified, not ourselves and our abilities (4:5). According to Paul, it’s through this faithful proclamation that God does the miraculous: he removes the veil from the eyes of the unbeliever (4:4); he shines the light of his glory in the face of Jesus on dead hearts (4:6); he brings about a new creation, where the old has passed away and behold the new has come (5:17). Only God can turn a message of death into an aroma of life (2:15–16). God does the work, through his word, so that we can say with Paul, “If I boast, I will boast in the Lord” (10:17). How could one be proud standing in the shadow of this good news?
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Pastor, this is good news for the weak.
2. The church is a place for the weak.
Preaching 2 Corinthians will also highlight for your congregation the beauty, importance, and power of the local church. When the false teachers pointed to high-ranking religious leaders for letters of recommendation, Paul pointed to the church as evidence of his apostleship, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Cor. 3:2).
It’s in the church that God’s glorious work through Christ shines brightly for all to see. The weakness of the vessels of mercy serve to highlight the treasure inside: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).
In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul elaborates on how people transformed by the gospel should carry out God’s purposes in the world. The fear and knowledge of God leads believers to persuade others (5:11). The gospel frees people from living for themselves, and frees them to living for Christ (5:15). The love of Christ controls his people (5:14). The reconciliation that has taken place between man and God comes with a built-in ministry of reconciliation, as God makes his appeal for salvation through his people. In short, we are his ambassadors (5:20). In his earlier letter to the Corinthians, Paul laid out this vision for God getting glory from the local church in this way: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).
Similarly, 2 Corinthians teaches us that the church is God’s means to bring glory to himself.
3. Suffering reveals the strength of the weak.
Finally, 2 Corinthians will prepare your congregation for suffering.
Paul begins his letter by pointing us to the God of all comfort, “who comforts us in all our affliction” (1:4). Paul speaks from experience (4:7–12; 11:21–29). He knows suffering brings about God’s gracious comfort; he also knows our suffering can act like a springboard for ministry to others. Not only does God draw near to those in affliction, but we learn from 2 Corinthians that the affliction itself is serving God’s good purposes in our lives. Paul says that the suffering he encountered in his own ministry served to help him not rely on himself, but on God (1:9). Even in the midst of our suffering, God is at work, preparing us for an eternity with him: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16–18).
Pastor, may our churches be like the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8. Tested severely by affliction and extreme poverty, they responded with an abundance of joy that overflowed into a generous financial gift for the needy (8:1–7). Looking to the unseen doesn’t diminish the affliction right in front of us, nor should we downplay the pain that many in our congregation experience.
We don’t have to pretend we’re not hurting. The church is a place where we can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (6:10) because God is sovereign and good, and suffering only reveals and solidifies the source of our hope and strength.
Pastor, I hope you will give yourself to preaching this wonderful letter. I preached this book in 20 sermons, and God has shaped our church through it. We’ve seen how God’s power is perfected in and through our weakness. This is God’s pattern for glorifying himself, as the work of Jesus made clear: “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4).
- Mark Seifrid’s commentary (2014) in The Pillar New Testament Commentary series was my “go-to” commentary for this series. It was helpful with technical issues and devotionally rich.
- John Stott’s short little commentary (1988) in The Bible Speaks Today series is helpful to summarize each section of text with reliable application.
- Linda Belleville’s commentary (1996) in the IVP NTCS was useful, especially for background information.
- I like to read the Preaching the Word series when I can, which are essentially sermons in written form. I read this series to get an overview of the text and to mine the helpful sermon illustrations! Kent Hughes’ work (2006) on 2 Corinthians provided an encouraging run through the text. It’s worth the read.