This is a guest post by Dane C. Ortlund, editor of 2 Corinthians: A 12-Week Study.
A Most Needed Book
The Christian life is impossible to live without 2 Corinthians.
At least, that’s how I feel about this book of the Bible. We don’t want to elevate any single portion of Scripture over the rest, of course, so I suppose I should back off of that statement. All of Scripture is given to us by God and vital for depth with him (2 Cor. 3:16–17). But 2 Corinthians really is unique.
The Secret to Christian Discipleship
The macrotheme running throughout 2 Corinthians, looked at over and over from different angles, is: the way up is down. The pathway to joy is through sorrow. Death brings life. Comfort comes through affliction.
In other words, this letter calms us into settled assurance that it is in the adversities of life in this fallen world, not by avoiding adversity, that life with God blossoms. Ease of life results in frothiness of life. The most substantial, radiant men and women we meet are those who bear scars, who have endured dark valleys. And they walked with Christ instead of growing cynical.
And so the reason I’m tempted to say that the Christian life is impossible to live without 2 Corinthians is that we all walk through pain. In different ways, for different reasons, at different seasons of life, hardship washes over us. How could we possibly remain sane and cheerful without God’s insistence throughout this letter that his deepest consolations are mediated to us in, not after, sorrow?
The Theme that Runs Right through the Letter
With just a few exceptions, the whole letter of 2 Corinthians draws out this paradoxical truth. Consider the ways the apostle Paul looks at this paradox from different angles:
- 1:3–7 Comfort through Affliction
- 1:8–11 Deliverance through Burdening
- 1:12–22 Grace through Simplicity
- 1:23–2:4 Joy through Pain
- 2:12–17 Victory through Captivity
- 3:1–6 Sufficiency through Insufficiency
- 3:12–18 Transformation through Unveiling
- 4:1–6 Ministry through Self-renunciation
- 4:7–15 Life through Death
- 4:16–18 Renewal through Corrosion
- 5:1–10 Dwelling through Homelessness
- 5:11–21 Sinlessness through Sinfulness
- 6:1–13 Blessing through Suffering
- 6:14–7:1 Welcoming through Separation
- 7:2–16 Joy through Grief
- 8:1–24 Abundance through Poverty
- 9:1–15 Reaping through Giving
- 10:1–18 Commendation through Denigration
- 11:1–15 Exaltation through Humbling
- 11:16–33 Confidence through Hardship
- 12:1–10 Strength through Weakness
- 12:11–21 Superiority through Inferiority
- 13:1–4 Power through Weakness
- 13:5–10 Approval through Apparent Disapproval
This installment in Knowing the Bible looks at 2 Corinthians through this lens that the way up is down. On one level this study is written simply to help you—as the series title indicates—know the Bible better. I hope this volume makes 2 Corinthians a lifelong friend for you. But at a deeper level, this volume is designed to foster depth with God as you endure your own hardships.
Christ’s Own Experience
More than any other book of the Bible perhaps, 2 Corinthians turns upside down our deepest intuitions that the way to joy is ease, comfort, health, and pain-avoidance. The way to joy is actually Christ himself, the Friend of Sinners, walking with him day by day—and the enjoyment of this Friend tends to rise as circumstances around us fall.
After all, this was Christ’s own experience. He endured pain, the ultimate pain of condemnation under the wrath of the Father. And through that pain he was raised to life and kingship over the cosmos with his beloved church welcomed into the very joy of the Trinity. For Jesus himself, the way up was down. We follow the Savior in this pattern, looking with hope to the new earth and the end of all sorrow and pain.
Study 2 Corinthians. Become a deeper, more solid, more invincible human being. The way up is down.
Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is executive vice president of Bible publishing and Bible publisher at Crossway. He serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton, Illinois.
Publication date: August 3, 2016