Overall, 2 Corinthians is Paul’s attempt to defend himself. Some in Corinth accused him of being a weak leader (2 Cor 1:15-22; 13:1-4) and overextending his authority over them (2 Cor 3:1-18; 10:1-6). In Corinth, one showed spiritual authority by pomp and external power, not the weakness of Christian love and humility, which reflect the cross of Christ. Paul began 2 Corinthians with a defense of his decision to change travel plans (2 Cor 1:1-2:17), recalling Old Testament passages to illustrate God’s sovereignty over his ministry.
(1) In 2 Cor 1:3-5, Paul described God’s acts of comfort toward suffering believers in terms that the psalmists and prophets used to described God’s solace toward individuals and Israel in their afflictions. In the Old Testament, a variety of factors caused individuals and Israel to suffer. David suffered for righteousness when Saul chased him (Psalms 52, 54, 56; 1 Samuel 19-30) and for his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51; 2 Samuel 11-12). Job suffered because God allowed him to be tested. Regardless of the situation, God comforted them when they called out to Him. After the nation of Israel suffered for her sin, God comforted His people. Isaiah wrote, “‘Comfort, comfort My people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of servitude is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins’” (Isa 40:1-2). In 2 Cor 1:3-5, Paul had in mind the sufferings he and other believers endured for their confession of Christ. Would not God comfort those who were in Christ and enabled by His Spirit just as much as He had comforted David, Job, and Israel? Paul wrote, “For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so our comfort overflows through Christ” (2 Cor 1:5).
(2) In 2 Cor 2:11, Paul portrayed Satan’s intentions in the Corinthian church in accord with Satan’s attempts to accuse and condemn individuals in the Old Testament. Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by lying about God’s motive in forbidding them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:1-5). Satan portrayed God as stingy. Satan struck Job because he thought he could get Job to suffer so much that Job would curse God to His face (Job 1:11). Satan accused Joshua the high priest until the Lord intervened and rebuked Satan (Zech 3:1-5). Paul was well aware that if the Corinthians did not welcome back the person who had sinned, then they would open themselves up to Satan’s influence. Paul urged the church to follow his example, saying, “If I have forgiven anything, it is for you in the presence of Christ, for that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his intentions” (2 Cor 2:10b-11).
(3) In 2 Cor 2:14 Paul described God’s display of the apostles of the new covenant in accord with how God intended for Israel to display Him in Canaan. The Lord made a covenant with Abraham to bring him and his descendants into the land He had prepared for them (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-16). On the Plains of Moab as Israel waited to cross into the Promised Land, Moses told the people that they were to enter the land and obey the law there so that they would display to the surrounding nations the Lord’s greatness and nearness (Deut 4:1-10). As an apostle of the new covenant, Paul wrote, “Thanks be to God who always puts us on display in Christ, and spreads through us in every place the scent of knowing Him” (2 Cor 2:14). Paul’s change of travel plans, detailed in 2 Cor 1:12-2:13, disrupted his relationship with the Corinthians but did not inhibit God from displaying His greatness through Paul. Although Paul admitted to changing his travel plans, he boasted of a clear conscience in the matter (2 Cor 1:12). Paul had planned to go from Ephesus to Corinth, travel north to Macedonia, and then back to Corinth before setting sail for Jerusalem. He instead paid only a brief, painful visit and then returned to Ephesus, returning later by land (2 Cor 1:15-16; 1 Cor 16:7). The Corinthians felt slighted and accused Paul of being inconsistent (2 Cor 1:17). Paul’s defense was that in the new covenant, God displays Himself through His people wherever He would lead them.