It is said that in 2 Corinthians we get a unique glimpse into Paul’s heart. He makes himself more personally accessible to his readers in this letter than in any other. He “wears his heart on his sleeve and speaks without constraint, hiding neither his affection, nor his anger, nor his agony.” On the other hand, “it would be equally true to say that he never wrote a more theological letter.” However, when one considers the theology of Romans, the affection in Philippians, and the forceful rebuke found in Galatians, these claims might seem overstated. While Paul’s recounting of his hardships as he boasts in his weaknesses in 2 Corinthians 11 certainly conveys gripping vulnerability, is it accurate to describe this as his most theological letter?
Central to the argument in Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians, nevertheless, is a deeply theological claim. Paul grounds his heartfelt defense and affectionate appeal to this congregation in an eschatological understanding of redemptive history. In responding to the charges of his opponents, Paul distinguishes his methods and aims in ministry from the so-called “super apostles” (11:5; 12:11). He renounces their “disgraceful, underhanded ways” and refuses to “practice cunning” (4:2). Why? Because the coming of Jesus has brought a new state of affairs into the world that transforms how we should view and relate to one another. This eschatological perspective surfaces throughout the letter but finds clear expression in his classic New Creation text in 5:17.
Paul’s already/not-yet framework of redemptive history influences his method and goals for Christian ministry, as well as his standards for evaluating success or failure in ministry. Specifically, Paul’s understanding that the New Creation has begun in the resurrection of Christ shapes how he approaches calling people to conversion and caring for believers as participants in the New Creation. As a result, he targets the transformation of the heart rather than the conformity of outward behavioral appearances.