Strength in Weakness: An Introduction to 2 Corinthians, Jonathan Lamb. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Langham Preaching Resources, 2020.
Summary: A concise exposition of 2 Corinthians designed as a resource for pastors, and for personal and small group study.
If there were a Facebook status for the relationship between Paul and the Corinthian church, it would probably be “it’s complicated.” He spent eighteen months helping establish this church, second in length only to his time in Ephesus. The correspondence we have occupies more space than any other Pauline correspondence to a church, and internal evidence suggests we have only two of four letters Paul wrote to them. This was no mere dispatching of an email, instant message, or even a letter in a mail box. Letters were often drafted and then re-written by a scribe and had to be hand carried to their intended recipient.
What we have as 2 Corinthians was probably the fourth letter Paul sent. Those who study and preach it find it challenging to figure out. It jumps around, touching on a variety of topics, seemingly unconnected: Paul’s non-visit, forgiving an offender, an extended defense of the character of his ministry against the claims of “super-apostles,” a fund-raising appeal for generosity, Another defense of his ministry focused on his sufferings and works among them, and his final encouragements. Some even think this might have represented a splicing together of a couple letters, although there is no manuscript evidence of this.
What Jonathan Lamb does in this book is provide an expository introduction of this challenging book. This is not a verse by verse commentary but a section by section content summary. Running through this “introduction” to 2 Corinthians is Paul’s emphasis on the character of Christ-dependent ministry. It is marked by integrity, service, and suffering for the sake of those ministered to. It forgives as the mercy of God in Christ has been extended to us. It exercises discipline when sin threatens the progress of individuals and communities from Spirit-given transformation from one degree of glory to another as they gaze on Christ. It invites generosity in offerings trusting God to supply needs and multiply the fruit of their righteous trust.
Lamb also pulls together the evidence of the text to delineate the character of the “super-apostles” who threatened the Corinthians allegiance to Christ and affection for Paul. We see individuals who boast of eloquence, that they “charge” the Corinthians for their service, and deride Paul for his self-supporting ministry and his sufferings. In doing so the contrast between Paul, whose ministry credential is the very church at Corinth, and the claims of these spurious apostles is apparent.
Lamb goes lightly on application leaving that to the 3-4 questions at the end of each section. I did appreciate his discussion of Paul’s pains to ensure the trustworthy handling of the offering he was sending emissaries to collect from Corinth. He writes, commenting on 8:20-21:
“It is important to be honest here. The temptation to misuse funds probably comes a close second to sexual temptation, not only among leaders but among all believers, although leaders sometimes face more opportunities to be tempted than the rest of us. Since it can be a device of Satan to exploit potential weaknesses, it is always important in church affairs to ensure that there is careful administration similar to that which Paul put in place here. Even the most trustworthy treasurer needs others to work with him in counting money, signing cheques or making bank transfers, so that we take ‘pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men’ (v. 21).”Jonathan Lamb, p. 118.
Oh, that every church and ministry would heed this counsel!
In addition to the section by section summaries of passages, Lamb includes short explanatory articles throughout on such matters as the different letters to Corinth, the offender in 2 Corinthians 2, discussions of covenant, universalism, resurrection, and atonement, and the unity of 2 Corinthians. All of this combines to provide a clear and concise introduction to 2 Corinthians readily accessible for anyone who would study and preach it. In doing so, Lamb points us to the source of true strength for gospel ministry that exalts Christ and serves people.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.