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Lesson Plan on 2 Corinthians 1-7



Paul has a growing history with the Saints at Corinth. As seen in 1st Corinthians, Paul was responding to many doctrinal disputes and disputations within the congregation. The epistle we call "2nd Corinthians" is the fourth known letter to the Corinthians that Paul writes. This time the message mainly revolves around two main ideas: 1. Paul's defense of his apostolic calling and 2. Paul offers up many words of healing and reconciliation after many hard words had been spoken by him previously (we might view portions of this epistle as Paul's "increase of love" towards the Corinthians Saints; see D&C 121:43).

The timeline of events of when and where this epistle fits into Paul's relations with the Corinth Saints is hard to piece together. Here I provide New Testament Scholar and member of the Church's take, Thomas Wayment:

"At the conclusion of [Paul's] second mission and while staying in Ephesus for nearly three years (Acts 20:31), Paul probably wrote the lost letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:9), in which his tone was severe and stern. That letter was the first mentioned in surviving letters, and it dealt with the topic of an immoral person in the community. Subsequently, Paul learned in a letter from Chloe that there were more significant problems in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11). The letter may have been delivered by Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Corinthians 16:17). In response to the dire report that he received from Chloe, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Paul then visited Corinth in person during what is known as his third missionary journey. That visit constituted his second visit to Corinth and may have been what Paul referred to as his painful visit (2 Corinthians 2:1). Following that visit, Paul wrote a letter of rebuke (2 Corinthians 2:3-4; 7:5-9) that Titus carried. After writing that letter of rebuke, which has not survived, Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia (Acts 20:1) and planned to meet Titus (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). Paul eventually met up with Titus, and after hearing his report of the situation in Corinth (2 Corinthians 7:6-16), Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. [This] final letter probably contains some responses to events that transpired during Paul's painful visit... [The criticism of Paul's intended visit to these Saints appears to be about] not returning sooner to Corinth." (The New Testament: A Translation For Latter-Day Saints, p. 313 & 315)

Therefore, if we really want to understand this Epistle we must also understand there is a lot of previous dialog and interactions that had occurred. Paul and the saints here are carrying a lot of baggage that is trying to be worked through. In other words, Paul is doing the constant work of ministering to a specific portion of the Christian flock's needs. As far as we know, he ministers to them in person or by letter over a 7 to 8-year span. This letter is written around 56 A.D. which is not too long before he travels to Jerusalem where he is arrested.

Here is an additional note for context that might explain a little bit the change in tone for Paul. In the very first verse of this epistle, Paul says he is writing also to "all the Saints which are in all Achaia." This would include all the congregations throughout central and southern Greece. It could be possible, therefore, that Corinth was like our modern idea of a stake or a regional hub for all the Christian churches in the region. It has been pointed out in previous lessons that Paul was not a member of the quorum of the twelve apostles. But from the following context, he was "an apostle to the Gentiles" (see Romans 11:13) because he was probably called to be the regional authority for these areas.

The manual for this week's lesson wants us to understand that "When you’re on the receiving end of some correction from a leader, it definitely helps to know that it is inspired by Christlike love. And even in those cases where it is not, if we’re willing to see others with the kind of love Paul felt, it’s easier to respond appropriately to any offenses. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled, “Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with"."(1)

With that groundwork in place let's dig into what Paul writes here.

Comfort and the Holy Spirit of Promise

READ 2 Corinthians 1:2-7

"2 Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.

7 And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation."

QUESTION: Paul here uses the Greek word for "comfort" ten times in five verses (the word used here for "consolation" is the same exact word in Greek). What is he trying to teach us by using the word so much? 

QUESTION: A better translation of verse 5 reads, "For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you." (NET) Paul says that our sufferings are for our comfort and salvation in verse 6. What on earth is Paul teaching here? What is the relationship between our sufferings and comfort within the gospel? 

N.T. Wright comments on the abundant use of the word "comfort" in these verses and calls it a thematic obsession Paul has throughout all his writings. He goes on to write:

"To say that this is obviously what's on his mind doesn't put it strongly enough... The whole idea of "comfort" is that one person is being with another, speaking words which change their mood and situation, giving them courage, new hope, new direction, new insights which will alter the way they face the next moment, the next day, the rest of their life... At the heart of this prayer, and of the gospel, is the fact that what is true of the Messiah becomes true of his people. This is a central principle for Paul, not simply as a powerful idea and belief but as a fact of experience." (2)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once articulated this principle plainly:

"When you struggle, when you are rejected, when you are spit upon and cast out and made a hiss and a byword, you are standing with the best life this world has ever known, the only pure and perfect life ever lived. You have reason to stand tall and be grateful that the Living Son of the Living God knows all about your sorrows and afflictions. The only way to salvation is through Gethsemane and on to Calvary. The only way to eternity is through Him—the Way, the Truth, and the Life." (3)

 Even further, Biblical Scholar and member of the Church, Richard Draper, breaks down the meaning of "comfort" (parakesis) to its root meaning:

"Behind the word translated “comfort” (παράκλησις, parakēsis) stands the idea of help that is felt as a lifting of the spirit and an endowment of strength." (4)

In addition, the term in Latin (confortare) means "to strengthen much." (5) Therefore, to endow, to strengthen, and to comfort are all implied by such a word anciently. This naturally takes us to a conversation about the Holy Ghost who is identified as "the Comforter" (see John 14:26).

READ 2 Corinthians 1:20-22

"20 For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;

22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts."

 A better translation of verse 22 is, "God has stamped his seal on us, by giving us the spirit in our hearts as a first payment and guarantee of what is to come." (see The Kingdom New Testament, p. 366)

QUESTION: In Greek, Paul's point is  “by the Spirit, who is the foretaste and down payment of what God has promised to give believers, the Corinthians Christians have been claimed as God’s property. They belong to him."(6) The Holy Ghost, therefore, is this endowment of strength (comfort) given to God's covenant children. What application for ourselves do we see in Paul's teaching here? How is it helpful to see the gift of the Holy Ghost as "God's deposit" that we are His?

The idea is that having the Holy Ghost in your life is the ultimate comfort we can have amid suffering. It is the guarantee of eternal life in the world to come. Bruce R. McConkie put it plainly:

"... If you're working zealously in this life--though you haven't fully overcome the world and you haven't done all you hoped you might do--you're still going to be saved. You don't have to do what Jacob said, "Go beyond the mark." You don't have to live a life that's truer than true. You don't have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing. What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church--keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you're on that path when death comes--because this is the time and the day appointed, this the probationary estate--you'll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure." (7)

God's deposit of the Holy Ghost refers to its/his role as "The Holy Spirit of Promise." It isn't well-appreciated or understood by many in and out of the Church. Paul's metaphor of the spirit being a deposit for eternal reward is a good metaphor to get an idea and it should flip our paradigm of "works" on its head. It is the Holy Ghost's role to ratify, validate, and seal all righteous acts and ordinances done upon the earth. (8) If we repent and try our best on the covenant path, His presence in our lives is a witness that we are currently "sealed" for life in the world to come. In other words, our righteous acts are not small deposits for Heaven. God actually deposits His spirit in us which allows us to become something, or to be made into a new creature. The Holy Spirit of Promise is the guarantor, not our own personal righteousness. This ought to heighten our awareness and understanding of what it means to "receive the Holy Ghost."


After this Paul transitions into a moving portion of this epistle where he notes his "anguish of heart" and "many tears" he has shed for the Corinth Saints. Many in the congregation are not only mad at Paul, but are vehemently mad at another man within the congregation. Chapter 2 seems to suggest this man was one of the large reasons Paul had to make a return and speak many hard things. We do not know for sure who this man is, but some scholars have suggested it could be either the man who disgraced the Saints through his incestual relationship with his mother-in-law from 1 Corinthians chapter 5 (8) OR the one who headed the local opposition against Paul, challenging his authority and doctrine. (9)

Either way, we get a sense of the large task Paul is asking the rest of the faithful Saints in Corinth.


"5 But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all.

6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.

7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.

8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.

9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.

10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;

11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices."

QUESTION: How do we forgive those who have severely wronged us, as in this example? The manual asks, How does withholding forgiveness harm others and ourselves? How does withholding forgiveness give "Satan ... an advantage [over] us"?

The word "forgive" is used abundantly in these verses and comes from the Greek word χαρίζομαι (charizomai). It isn't the usual word for forgiveness in the New Testament. This word is sparsely used and has the Greek word for "grace" (charis) as one of its roots. It more literally means "to bestow favors or gifts, a gift of grace." (10) We covered in previous lessons that this charis has a covenantal context anciently, therefore, we not only receive grace from God and show Him honor, we are under a covenantal obligation to freely give acts of grace to others who are also dealing with mortality... Even if that person has done some pretty wicked things.

Also, the word "comfort" (parakaleo) shows up again in verse 7. This identifies the nature of the grace we are to show others who wrong us. It more fully means "to give that which will heal, lift, and inspire them to repent." (11) From the given context, it appears that this man had repented and, so, Paul is afraid that the negative feelings towards him could result in him being "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow."

Quoting Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, again, he gets at how we are to freely forgive and how we let Satan into our relationships if we continue to "let yesterday hold tomorrow hostage."

"When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died to heal. Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is that charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ. If something is buried in the past, leave it buried." (12)

It is also worth pointing out how Paul heavily brings grace into this conversation given the word he chose to use (see above). Sometimes we get a perverse understanding of the need for justice for sinners. President Nelson has called repentance "a never-ending privilege" (13) and we pervert it with an Augustinian thirst for "justice." Here are a few insights that can help us check ourselves when we fall into such thinking:

"According to the logic of original sin, the purpose of the law is punishment. The law’s purpose is to judge what is deserved. The law is a divine mechanism for judging who deserves to suffer (or not) and to what degree. The point of the law is accusation. The logic of grace, on the other hand, takes the purpose of the law to be love. The law’s purpose is still to judge—but, now, to judge what is needed. The law is a divine mechanism for judging what is needed to relieve suffering and liberate sinners. The point of the law is grace." - Adam Miller (14)

 President Boyd K. Packer once echoed a very similar thought:

"Justice can seem to be so very demanding. But we must learn that when we put everything as right as we can put it right, it is Justice who invokes the Atonement, orders the adversary off our property, and posts the notice that his agents will make no more collections from us. Our debt will have been paid in full by the only perfect pure person who ever lived... [We] will have learned that Justice is another name for Mercy, and Mercy is another name for Justice." (15)

May we always approach every relationship with the question of, "What is needed?" instead of "What is deserved?"

Joseph Smith got to the heart of the communal covenantal matter when he said:

"If you do not accuse each other God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven; and if you will follow the Revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours— for charity covereth a multitude of sins." (16)

Have Ye Received Christ's Image (Face) in Your Countenances? (see Alma 5:19)

Paul goes on to refer to individuals who were trying to supplant him in the Corinth church with "letters of recommendation" (see 2 Corinthians 3:1). It was probably the case that various teachers were questioning Paul's credentials as an Apostle and Paul isn't too thrilled with it. The way he answers the question in this chapter mirrors a lot of what Alma teaches in the Book of Mormon, particularly Alma chapter 5. But, Paul brings Moses and the camp of Israel's experience at Sinai to make his point and, in my opinion, it adds richness to the idea of "having Christ's image in your/our countenances." Paul teaches that the Saints in Corinth are their own letters of recommendation through their experience with Christ and the "Spirit of the living God." This evidence was unimpeachable proof of Paul's ministry considering that many had the gospel within the "fleshy tables of the heart." (see 2 Corinthians 3:3).


"7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:

8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?

9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.

11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:

13 And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:

14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.

15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.

16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.

17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."

Paul, as noted above, is using the Sinai experience found in Exodus 34:29-35 when Moses spent 40 days fasting and received the tablets of stone. He is trying to make a point about the credentials to be disciples of Christ we receive through the Spirit. He is also making the point of how or why some people believe while others go down the path of unbelief.

QUESTION: What principles do you see Paul teaching here that can help us in our discipleship? For example, Moses's glorified face was condemnation to the camp of Israel. How do we remove the "veil upon the heart"? How is "the veil done away in Christ"? Or, within this context what does Paul mean when he says "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty"?

When read in context, it appears that this liberty or freedom Paul is discussing is very similar to what Nephi discusses in 2 Nephi 2:27. Namely, this liberty is free to choose through Jesus Christ. In Paul's vernacular, we might say that this liberty is directly connected with the unveiling of Jesus Christ in our lives. The last verse, verse 18, appears to make the point that this unveiling allows Jesus Christ to change us "into the same image from glory to glory" (which sounds an awful lot like going from "grace to grace, see D&C 93:12-20).

With verse 18 in mind, Mormon's words are a clear connection to what Paul is referring to. Mormon connects it to Charity and very similar wording occurs:


"47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen."

Therefore, the questions that Alma asks the church in his day are very poignant. "Can [we] look up" with unveiled faces "having the image of God engraven upon [our] countenances?" (see Alma 5:19)

QUESTION: How do we unveil and become the image of Christ?

Very much echoing principles we have discussed previously, Elder Lynn G. Robbins has said the following:

"No one is more on our side than the Savior. He allows us to take and keep retaking His exams. To become like Him will require countless second chances in our day-to-day struggles with the natural man, such as controlling appetites, learning patience and forgiveness, overcoming slothfulness, and avoiding sins of omission, just to name a few. If to err is human nature, how many failures will it take us until our nature is no longer human but divine? Thousands? More likely a million...

Repentance is God’s ever-accessible gift that allows and enables us to go from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm. Repentance isn’t His backup plan in the event we might fail. Repentance is His plan, knowing that we will. This is the gospel of repentance, and as President Russell M. Nelson has observed, it will be “a lifetime curriculum.”" (17)

The talk of having the image of Christ engraved upon our countenances and having Him unveiled to us is no more and no less a discussion about using the precious gift of repentance. This is something, as Paul points out, ancient Israel had a lot of trouble doing. 


Christ is to be the center of all we do, talk, and become. Paul is a master of this in his epistles and some scholars have uncovered just how central Christ is to Paul from a literary perspective. To understand this, I remind you that Paul was raised Jewish with a high and intense education. He was aware and well-versed in the literary writings, styles, and techniques of not just the Greeks and Romans, but of the Jewish people. Paul, in the first seven chapters of 2 Corinthians implements a very large chiasmus. A chiasmus is "a literary device in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order. It comes from a Greek word meaning “crossing” or “X-shaped.” In practice, chiasmus is when you write a clause and then write a similar clause in reverse."(18) In layman's terms, it can be used as a literary practice to place a main theme or message directly in the middle, which is also a practice used architecturally within many ancient and modern temples. For example, below is the chiasmus structure of the seven chapters we read this week:

This might seem a tad bit too academic for some, but the implications have pure application to our lives. In essence, with all our talk of comfort, trials, faith, doubt, and relationships we must never forget that Christ and His gospel of reconciliation is the sacred center of everything. Paul does this through a masterful literary tool that is much longer than a usual chiasmus. Ancient readers would have more readily seen Paul putting Christ at the center of all the doctrines and principles he taught in the first half of the epistle. 

Christ being the center of everything is what President Russell M. Nelson echoed a few years ago:

"It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as “the Atonement” or “the enabling power of the Atonement” or “applying the Atonement” or “being strengthened by the Atonement.” These expressions present a real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Under the Father’s great eternal plan, it is the Savior who suffered. It is the Savior who broke the bands of death. It is the Savior who paid the price for our sins and transgressions and blots them out on condition of our repentance. It is the Savior who delivers us from physical and spiritual death.

There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him." (20)


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