Paul traveled to the wicked, violent, and Gentile city of Corinth to preach the gospel. The Greek philosophers scoffed at him and the Jewish fanatics wanted to throw rocks at him. After a few days Paul’s inclination was to abandon the enterprise altogether—brush off his clothes and hit the road (Acts 18:6). But God had something else in mind. He told Paul so in a night vision (Acts 18:9-10). Paul stayed, sinners believed, and the church was established.

As it turns out, this church caused Paul more pain than all of his other churches combined. After he left he had nothing but trouble with them: immorality, factions, carnality—the list seems endless. Worse still, a mysterious group of intruders infiltrated Paul’s work and were vying for leadership. The fickle Corinthians didn’t know who to believe: Paul or these “false apostles.” The ugly things these intruders said about Paul did have some basis in reality:

  • He changes his plans all the time – you can’t trust him or his message.
  • He is no orator – perhaps he can write a decent letter but he sure can’t preach.
  • He is a nobody – his social standing is one notch below a tax collector.
  • He won’t let anyone pay him – if he were a true professional he’d accept our patronage.
  • He has no credentials – real players have letters of recommendation to prove it.
  • He’s a milk toast – if he had power from God he certainly wouldn’t look the way he does.

Paul’s response to these accusations is directed at his converts in Corinth; references to the intruders are indirect. His concern is for his beloved disciples of Christ. His purpose is to convince them to remain loyal to him, his message, and, ultimately, his God.

Although the letter we call Second Corinthians comes to us in a genre that seems strange (a very defensive autobiography) the message is powerfully relevant for the 21st Century Church: what makes a legitimate Christian Minister (diakonos)?