by Rev. Ian Arnold
There are many places in Paul’s Epistles from which we can glean at least something of the state of affairs in the various infant Christian groups and Churches he was instrumental in establishing, questions and uncertainties, strife and difficulties, resistance to his leadership, and so on. And you need to know this because you won’t get a handle on 2 Corinthians otherwise. Paul had sent a strong letter to the Church in Corinth, (a letter which, by the way, and like so much of what Paul wrote, was lost). We know it to have been delivered by his companion, and fellow worker, Titus, (See 2 Corinthians 7:5-8) but over which subsequently, Paul agonized as to how it would be received. In fact, as he was to find out, this same letter had been received positively and members of the Church at Corinth had taken his rebuke and admonitions to heart. Happy to know this, he wrote again, this time much more a letter of “praise and joy” and what he wrote comprises the bulk of 2 Corinthians (Chapter 2 to 9, in the main).
2 Corinthians is not, however all praise and joy. What we also learn from the Epistle is that in his absence from Corinth Paul was under personal attack; his authority was being questioned; his preaching and teaching style talked about contemptuously. In Chapter 11 he calls out these people. “What I do” he wrote, “I will continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are (he himself is) in the things of which they boast.” And he goes on, in no uncertain terms, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder!”, he exclaims, “For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” (Verses 12 to 14). Who knows but that the situation called for it, but from verses 22 to 33, still in Chapter 11, Paul doesn’t hold back on his credentials to be an apostle, equal with them all. For me it comes across as somewhat self-focussed. He talks about the sufferings he has endured, the lashings he has received, the wearisome and perilous journeys he has made, “in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness – besides other things, what comes upon me daily; my deep concern for all the Churches.” (Verses 27 & 28)
It’s as part of Paul’s strong insistence on the validity of his call and his authority as an apostle that in Chapter 12 we have what is perhaps the most famous part of 2 Corinthians. Whilst, he says, he is diffident about boasting yet .he sees the value in recalling – and writing about – a vision of heaven he had had fourteen years previously. “I know a man in Christ”, he wrote, “who, fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know or whether out of the body, I do not know, God knows – such a one was caught up to the third heaven”. And “caught up into Paradise” as he puts it, he “heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for man to utter.”
It surprises me that there is no reference in the Writings to this experience Paul recalls here, when yet it bears out, or testifies, to the reality of life beyond this one, even to the existence of different heavens, or different intensities of heavenly life. Maybe Swedenborg was caused to let it speak for itself, just leaving it at that.
Reading through the Epistle I noted highlight statement, as follows:
Chapter 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
For me, this holds within it the truth about the creation in us of a new will as regeneration progresses.
Then there is,
Chapter 7, verses 10 “For godly sorrow produces repentance.”
This brings to mind the teaching in the Writings about the steps which comprise genuine repentance, the 2nd being making oneself guilty of sin we have identified in ourselves.
Chapter 9, verse 6 “But this I say, He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
And what this opens up, for me, is the subject of influx and a beautiful passage, “Arcana Caelestia”, 9049, which reads (in part),
“With someone who does good with all his heart good is flowing in from heaven on every side into his heart and soul and inspiring him greatly to act as he does…Similarly with someone evil who does evil to another with all his heart. Evil on every side is flowing in from hell into his heart and spurring him on greatly to act as he does.”