Paul's second letter to the Corinthians is probably the least known of all his letters. It has sometimes been called
Paul's unknown letter, and I do not know why that is. First Corinthians is very well known among his writings, but many people feel that Second Corinthians is heavy reading. It is too bad that we are so unfamiliar with it, because it represents the most personal, autobiographical letter from the apostle's pen.
In First Corinthians the focus is on the church at Corinth. But in Second Corinthians we are looking at Paul; he is the one in focus as he lays himself open and reveals himself to the church. This, therefore, is a very personal letter from the heart of this mighty apostle. Here we see him more clearly, perhaps, than anywhere else in Scripture.
This book has been called Second Corinthians, but it should, perhaps, be called Fourth Corinthians, because it is the last of four letters that Paul wrote to the church there. Two of these letters have not been preserved for us--that is why we have only First and Second Corinthians--but they are not in the order that these titles suggest.
Paul began the church in Corinth somewhere around 52 or 53 AD. He stayed there for about a year-and-a-half; then he went to Ephesus. While he was at Ephesus, he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth that is lost to us. It is referred to in First Corinthians 5:9, where Paul says he wrote to warn them about following a worldly lifestyle. In response to that letter, the Corinthians wrote back to him with many questions. In reply to that letter, Paul wrote what we now call First Corinthians, trying to answer their questions. He exhorted them and instructed them in how to walk in power and in peace, and he tried to correct many problem areas in the church. Evidently that letter did not accomplish all that Paul intended. There was a bad reaction to it, and in this second letter we learn that he made a quick trip back to Corinth. How long that took we do not know. Paul calls it a
painful visit. He had come with a rather sharp, severe rebuke to them, but again he did not accomplish his purpose, as there was a great deal of negative reaction.
So when he returned to Ephesus, he sent another brief letter to Corinth along with Titus to see if he could help them. Titus was gone a long time because transportation and communication were very slow and difficult in those days. Paul, waiting in Ephesus, grew very anxious to hear what was happening in the church there. He became so troubled that he left Ephesus and went to Troas and then up into Macedonia to meet Titus. There in Macedonia, probably in the city of Philippi, he and Titus came together. Titus brought him a much more encouraging word about the church, and in response to that, out of thanksgiving, Paul wrote what we now call the Second Corinthians letter, although it was really the fourth of a series of letters.