Knocked down but never knocked out – studies in 2 Corinthians


The Church in Corinth was established around 51 AD through the preaching of the apostle Paul. We read in Acts 18 how Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked with them in their tent- making business. Every week for 18 months Paul preached in the synagogue that Jesus was the Messiah. Crispus the leader of the synagogue and his entire household became Christians and many others were also baptised and the church in Corinth was born.

Some years later Paul received a letter from Corinth telling of all kinds of problems in the church there with the church dividing into factions. We don’t have that letter, but we do have Paul’s reply and we know that as his first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians answered Paul with another letter which again we don’t have but we can work out what they said because we do have Paul’s reply and that is 2 Corinthians. In a nutshell the Corinthians challenged Paul’s authority to teach them. Since he had moved on from Corinth, other men had come along claiming to be apostles bringing false teaching leading which was leading the church astray. The second letter to the Corinthians is first and foremost Paul’s defence of his own ministry against the claims of the false apostles. How do we distinguish a true apostle from a false apostle? How do we know which preachers to trust and which to reject? How does a church choose its minister and how does a denomination know who should be accredited as a minister and who should not be?

Since many of these questions are more relevant to ministers and church leaders than to most of the church we will address them in just one study on the nature of Christian ministry. Very much of the rest of 2 Corinthians is concerned with our experiences of suffering, but we will confine ourselves to just two aspects of that vast question. There is plenty more in 2 Corinthians which applies equally to every Christian we will spend more time on those topics.

1. Treasure in jars of clay 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and 4:1-12
2. Glory! 2 Corinthians 3:1-18
3. Faith not sight 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:10
4. The ministry of reconciliation 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2
5. Perfecting holiness out of reverence for God 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:16
6. Christian giving 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15
7. Christian ministry 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 10:1-11:14
8. Paul’s thorn in the flesh 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:21

1. Treasure in jars of clay 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and 4:1-12

“We may be knocked down but we are never knocked out!” (2 Corinthians 4:8 J.B.Phillips)

In much of 2 Corinthians Paul’s defence of his ministry is essentially that he has suffered so much more than the false apostles who are leading the Corinthians astray. We will not dwell on all Paul’s sufferings but we will look at two passages because they encourage us with the blessings which Paul says we or others will experience when any Christians go through times of suffering and trial.

1. Some people say “suffering is good for you.” Do the Group agree?

2. Read 2 Corinthians 1:1-11. From verses 3-7, how does Paul say the Corinthians will receive blessings through his sufferings?

3. From 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, what blessings does Paul say he (and his companions) themselves received through their times of suffering?

4. Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. What evidence do we see in the world around for Paul’s assertion that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”? What are the consequences for us as we seek to follow Christ and to share the gospel with our neighbours?

5. Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. What does “treasure in jars of clay” mean? Here as in chapter 1 (and in several other places in this letter) Paul lists the ways he has suffered for his faith. In what ways have members of the group suffered for their faith? What experiences do members of the Group have of being “knocked down but not knocked out”?

6. Paul says in verse 10 “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” What does he mean by this? How does “death at work in us” lead to life at work in other people?

7. Pray for each other in your experiences of suffering for Christ, and for persecuted Christians around the world.

2. Glory! 2 Corinthians 3:1-18

1. Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-18. Paul talks about glory. What does glory mean?

2. Take some time to look up the references below to establish an understanding of what the Bible means by glory.
In the Old Testament ‘Glory’ has the root idea of ‘heaviness’, ‘weight’ and so ‘worthiness’. It is used of men to describe their wealth, splendor, reputation or honour. The glory of Yahweh denotes the revelation of God’s being, nature and presence to mankind, sometimes with physical phenomena.
See Exodus 16:7, 10; Exodus 24:15–18; Exodus 34:5-8; Exodus 40:34–35;
2 Chronicles 7:1–3.
In the New Testament the word glory is chiefly used to describe the revelation of the character and the presence of God in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
See Luke 2:9, 14; John. 1:14; Hebrews 1:3; Matthew 17:1-8; John 7:23-28.

3. Paul says that the glory of the ministry of the Spirit should be even more glorious than that seen in the old covenant. How should we expect to see the glory of God manifested in his church today?

4. Advertising for a recent Christian conference promised “an evening of star-studded worship”. In this age of celebrity, in what ways do “big name” preachers and headlining worship bands help us see the glory of God and in what ways do they stop us seeing the glory of God?

5. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
(2 Corinthians 3:17) What does Paul mean by freedom here? How should we experience that freedom which the Spirit brings?

6. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18) What must we do to be transformed into the likeness of Christ? How should we expect to see this “ever-increasing glory” in our lives? So we?

7. Spend time in prayer seeking God.

Ruler of the nations, The world has yet to see
The full release of Your promise, The church in victory.
Turn to us, Lord, and touch us, Make us strong in Your might
Overcome our weakness, That we could stand up and fight.

Let Your glory fall in this room, Let it go forth from here to the nations.
Let Your fragrance rest in this place, As we gather to seek Your face.
(David Ruis, Songs of Fellowship 714)
3. Faith not sight 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:10

Paul says “We live by faith, not by sight”. But in fact most of us for most of the time live on the basis of what we can see, touch and feel rather than what we believe to be true even though we can’t see it. The questions below focus specifically on the theme of faith but of course there are other wonderful themes to explore in this rich passage, and you may prefer to approach this evening as a simple verse-by-verse study.

1. Ask the group, “In what ways have you shown faith over the last week?” Remember that actions that spring from faith are those acts of obedience which we would NOT HAVE DONE if we did not have faith in Christ.

2. “I believed, therefore I have spoken.” (2 Corinthians 4:13) In what ways should true faith compel a Christian to speak? (Hint: can we really claim to believe something if we are not prepared to tell others about it!)

3. Read 2 Corinthians 4:18-5-10. What does Paul mean when he says in verse 18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” How do we do this in practice? What is the relationship between faith and hope?

4. How much and in what ways are our lives here and now actually influenced by our hope of heaven? Do we really agree with Paul that we also “prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”? (2 Corinthians 5:8)

5. So what does Paul mean by the word “faith” when he says “We live by faith, not by sight.”? How would our lives be different if we also truly lived by that kind of faith? What kinds of things would we do or say differently? (Try to find specific examples!)

6. “So we make it our goal to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9) Use this verse as the springboard for a time of meditation and recommitment.
4. The ministry of reconciliation 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2

1. Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2. This is a familiar well-known passage so we will tackle it in an unusual order. Although Paul is talking about his own ministry, the passage applies to us all since God calls us all to be “ambassadors for Christ”. In just a few verses Paul summarises the gospel we have to preach and our appropriate response to it.

2. Verse 17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! Ask the Group, “What difference does being a Christian make to our daily lives?” Try to move beyond trite or superficial responses. Are we really living brand new lives as new creations? If not, why not?

3. Verse 11 – Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What does Paul mean by fearing God? Here is our first motive for sharing the gospel boldly.

4. Verse 14-15 – For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Here is a second motive for sharing the gospel boldly. By ‘Christ’s love’ Paul means the love Christ has for us, not the love we have for Christ. In what ways does Christ’s love for us motivate us to serve God?

5. Verses 18-20 – All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Here is our third motive for proclaiming the gospel – God has given us that job to do! What does it mean in practice to be an ambassador for Christ? How does being an ambassador for Christ change our whole life? (Hint: not only our words, but our attitudes and actions as well.) How seriously do we take our responsibilities as ambassadors?

6. Spend some time in prayer meditating on the glorious gospel we have to proclaim! We can be reconciled to God because God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

7. Conclude by listening to Paul’s passionate appeal.
As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1)
What more could you be doing as individuals and as a Home Group to share God’s message of reconciliation with friends and neighbours and strangers?
Is there any activity or event you could arrange as a Group over the summer (e.g. barbecue weather or a picnic in the park or by the sea??) to which you could invite non-Christian friends and neighbours and folk who are new to the church?
5. Perfecting holiness out of reverence for God 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:16

1. 2 Corinthians 7:1 says “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
Ask the Group, “In what ways have you grown more holy over the last year?”

2. What should “holiness” look like in our everyday lives? What can we do to purify ourselves and perfect holiness? The following questions explore this issue.

3. Read 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. What does being “yoked together with unbelievers” refer to? Some think it is to do with a Christian being married to a non-Christian. Others think it is to do with business partnerships rather than family life. What do verses 14-15 have to say to us today? DISCUSS THIS VERY SENSITIVELY in the light of the family circumstances of members of the group.

4. Read again verses 17-18. Some churches have taken this idea of being separate from the world around to extremes. What should in mean in practice for US to “Come out from them and be separate,” and “Touch no unclean thing”. (Hint: Paul is quoting Isaiah 52:1 and Ezekiel 20:34 and 41, which were written to the Jews in Exile in Babylon.) What part should “being separate” play in our perfecting holiness?
Somebody once said “You don’t become holy by living in a hole!” What does this say about everyday Christian living?

5. Read 2 Corinthians7:2-13. Paul now talks about godly sorrow (which) brings repentance. Invite the Group to share any experiences they may have of godly sorrow, acknowledging and bewailing our manifold sin and wickedness.

6. What is repentance? (Answer: a change of mind, recognising sin as sinful and being sorry enough to change our actions). Repentance is not just a single once for all act but a life-long process of turning away from sin and towards God. What part will this process have in our perfecting holiness?

7. What can Christians do to help each other in repentance and perfecting holiness? How can the Group support and encourage each other in becoming more holy? Pray for each other to become more holy.
God grant me the grace to desire that others become more holy than I am,
provided that I become as holy as I ought.

6. Christian giving 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15

The Apostle Paul arranged for a collection among the Gentile churches to help the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Here he gives a number of general principles for Christian giving.

1. Begin by exploring the following question, very sensitively recognising the very varied circumstances of different members of the group.
“How do you decide which causes to give your offerings to and how much you are going to give?”

2. Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-24. What does the Bible teach us here about giving to support the work of the church and about giving to charity? See especially verses 2-5, 1-12 and 14-15.

3. Read 2 Corinthians 9:1-15. Again consider what this passage teaches us about giving. See especially the different points in verses 5, 6, 7 and 11.

4. “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) How to we stay cheerful in our giving?

5. Read 2 Corinthians 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Use this as a springoard for a time of meditation and prayer.

In a recent sermon on The Widow’s Tiny Coins (Mark 12:41-44) we said the following:

“The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.” (Mark 12:44 in The Message)

A.W.Tozer wrote, “In God’s sight, my giving is measured not by how much I have given but how much I have left after I made my gift. …. Not by its size is my gift judged, but by how much of me there is in it.” That widow gave everything she had!

Only giving what we can spare, what we won’t miss, is unworthy of Almighty God who created us and redeemed us at the immeasurable cost of the life of His own Son Jesus Christ. C.S.Lewis wrote. “The only safe rule is to give MORE THAN we can spare.”

7. Christian ministry 2 Corinthians 10:1-11:14

The church in Corinth was being led astray by “false apostles”. Paul describes them like this.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) This whole letter is Paul’s defence of his ministry

1. Considering for example the spheres of politics or of business. What does the world around look for in its leaders? Are these the same things that God expects from those who lead his Church?

2. How do we know which preachers to trust and which to reject? How should a church choose its minister and how should a denomination decide who should be accredited as a minister and who should not be?

3. Look at the passages in 2 Corinthians below. What can we conclude are the characteristics of the “false apostles” in Corinth? Contrast those with the verses on the same line in which Paul talks about himself.

False apostles Paul
2:17 11:7-10 and 1 Corinthians 9:11-18
11:5-6 11:5-6
11:4 5:18-19
11:16-30 4:7-9; 6:4-10;

4. In those passages above you will notice ways in which the false apostles were actually acting in ways in which we expect and even want business or political leaders to act today. So what SHOULD leadership and ministry look like in the church? How will it be different from leadership in the world around?

5. Pray for Christian leaders in our church, the churches of the town and the denominations.

8. Paul’s thorn in the flesh 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

1. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. We will spend this evening understanding just these few verses.

2. What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? Most people think it was some kind of physical ailment, maybe poor eyesight (see Galatians 6:11). Since he describes it as a messenger of Satan some people think it was a besetting sin Paul could not gain victory over, but that would seem to be contradicted by 1 Corinthians 10:12-13.

3. What does it teach us about our sufferings that God did not take this suffering and struggle of Paul’s away from him? (It is at least evidence that we cannot expect that all illnesses will be miraculously healed.)

4. Paul says “There was given me a thorn”. That could be a reverential way of saying “God gave me”. But then he calls it “a messenger of Satan”. Do we believe God ever makes people ill? Or that the devil has the power to make people ill? (The Bible is clear that illness is not usually directly caused by either God or the devil, but equally that SOME illnesses do have a direct spiritual cause.)

5. In what ways is God’s power “made perfect in weakness”? What does Paul mean when he says “When I am weak, then I am strong”? How can we know God’s grace and power in our own situations?

6. What does this short passage teach us about how we should pray for ourselves or for others when we are sick or struggling in some way in life? (At least it shows us that sometimes when we ask for healing God will say “no”.)

7. Spend time praying for those who are sick or wrestling with some kind of difficulty.

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