Paul’s strained relationship with the Corinthians troubled his heart (2 Cor 1:23-2:4). While Paul was their father in the gospel, the Corinthians were not acting as obedient children. The coolness of their relationship was further chilled by Paul’s change in travel plans—which was actually his strategy to give them time to come to their senses in Christ (2 Cor 1:15-22). Having heard from Titus (2 Cor 7:5-7) that the Corinthians were humbled and repentant, Paul composed 2 Corinthians to provide the church in Corinth with an autobiographical perspective of his apostolic ministry. Paul portrayed his ministry in light of the narrative of Scripture, noting places where the Old Testament anticipated the life-giving, challenging new covenant.
(1) In 2 Cor 3:3-16, Paul employed Moses’ giving of the law on Mount Sinai in Exodus 31 and 34 as the precedent for a spiritual leader directing the ethical choices of those under his charge. Since Paul was ministering in the superior era of fulfillment in Christ and the Spirit, he understood himself to have at least as much authority as Moses. But the Corinthians questioned not only Paul’s apostolic authority, but also his authenticity—because he suffered at seemingly every turn. If God appointed Paul to spread the message, why did the apostle encounter so much suffering and resistance? Paul confessed that his competence for ministry came from God. Just as Moses’ face had a certain measure of glory as he directed Israel’s ethical norms under the old covenant, Paul had a greater measure of glory in the new. The glory faded from Moses’ face (Exod 34:29-35), but Paul spoke with no veil, no cover, unhindered. As Paul had been called to do new covenant ministry of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6)—so he relied on the Spirit as he confidently applied the gospel to the issues confronting the Corinthian church (2 Cor 3:17).
(2) In 2 Cor 4:13, Paul cited Ps 116:10 to establish that God’s messengers of old were not spared from suffering and could trust God even in the day of difficulty. In faith, the psalmist cried out to God when the ropes of death ensnared him. The psalmist believed and therefore spoke to God, asking for deliverance and life (Ps 116:10). Paul saw in the psalmist a kindred spirit, telling the Corinthians in 2 Cor 6:1-2 that he was working with God and that God had heard him and helped him as he proclaimed the message of the new covenant despite opposition. Paul’s belief in Christ compelled him to use boldness of speech in confronting the errors of the church, knowing that even if he would be persecuted unto death for taking his stand, God would raise him just as He had Jesus (2 Cor 4:11-15). Despite Paul’s sufferings for Christ, he believed and spoke confidently “knowing that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Cor 4:14).
(3) In 2 Cor 6:2, Paul quoted Isa 49:8 to proclaim his confidence in God’s help during times of extreme suffering for Christ. In Isaiah 49, the prophet heralded the future day of Israel’s salvation when the Lord would send His servant and proclaim salvation to the ends of the earth. The Lord promised to answer His people and help them on the day of salvation (Isa 49:8). Paul portrayed himself as God’s co-worker (2 Cor 6:2). Though Paul felt like his earthly house, the tent of his body, was decaying, he was sure that God would hasten to aid him to proclaim the gospel as long as he lived.
(4) In 2 Cor 6:16-18, Paul arranged phrases from Lev 26:12, Isa 52:11, and 2 Sam 7:14 to argue that the Corinthians would live according to the standards of God’s call upon them. In Paul’s mind, since God commanded Israel to practice their holy status as God’s special people, the Corinthians should do no less. Isaiah’s exhortation for Israel to heed their salvation and separate themselves from the unclean practices of the nations (Isa 52:12) addressed the Corinthians as well. Paul also applied 2 Sam 7:14—the Lord’s promise to David that He would be Father to the king’s son—to the Corinthians. Paul thus positioned the Corinthians in the lofty position of royalty and challenged the Corinthians to live up to their higher standing in Christ. Paul implored the Corinthians to separate themselves from anything that would defile their holy status.