The letter we know as Second Corinthians is hard to read as a unity. The passage 6.14 to 7.1 is unconnected with what comes before or follows. Chapter 9 does not fit in its established place. It is often suggested that our letter is in fact a composite of several notes or letters from Paul’s hand which were placed together after his death.
The bulk of the letter can, however, be securely dated to the period between the composition of First Corinthians (AD 57) and Paul’s visit to Corinth in the course of his Third Missionary Journey, perhaps during his travel through Macedonia on his way there.
It is Paul’s most passionate and intensely personal letter, in which he has to defend himself both against the charge that he did not pay them a visit as he had promised and was simply duping them like any strolling exorcist (chapters 1 to 6) and (in chapters 10 to 13) that his teaching was inauthentic. In this letter we see revealed the true emotional and physical cost of the Apostle’s concern for all his churches, the punishments, natural hazards and constant deprivation which his ministry was costing him (chapter 11). All this he had to suffer from unbelievers. And when his own converts start to criticise him we can understand how close to despair he must have been. We can see why he uses the words parakalein and paraklesis (“encouragement, consolation”) no less than ten times in the first seven verses and repeatedly as he goes on. He really needed it. He speaks heartfelt appreciation to those Corinthians who have consistently supported him, but most of all he gives thanks to God, on whose power to save he constantly relies. Chapter 4 v 7 says it all: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the power to overcome may be God’s, not ours”. How can we be sure of God’s power? The answer is: through the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, God’s supreme mighty act. The same theme recurs in chapter 12: “I was given a thorn in the flesh, so that I shouldn’t become too conceited. I asked the Lord repeatedly to take it away, but His answer was: My grace is sufficient for you; My strength will overcome your weakness”.
This is the central message for all Christians. When we are at our weakest, then we are strongest because most conscious of God’s power to save. A letter which lays bare the Apostle’s soul concludes, as it began, with an exhortation to his children in the faith to bring order and harmony out of discord (chapter 13) and to console one another in love and peace. Then God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will abide with them in grace, love and fellowship and they will know, like Paul, that whatever may happen to the body the inward soul is renewed day by day.