2 Corinthians | 1:1-11 | 1:12-24 | 2:1-11 | 2:12-17 | 3:1-6 | 3:7-18 | 4:1-6 | 4:7-12 | 4:13-18 | 5:1-10 | 5:11-15 | 5:16-21 | 6-9 | 10-13 | PDF |

Join us as we study through 2 Corinthians verse by verse. Our discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.

2 Corinthians 1:12-24 Inductive Bible Study Guide


I. Paul had acted with sincerity and simplicity (12-14)
II. Paul had acted with faithfulness and pure motivations (15-20)
III. Paul and the Corinthians were one family in Christ (21-24)

I. Paul had acted with sincerity and simplicity (12-14)

Discussion Questions

  • Why does Paul use the word “boast” here which normally has a negative connotation?
  • What verses can you think of that speak about boasting?
  • What is the main point of this passage?
  • What may have prompted Paul to defend his actions and motivations?
  • What can we learn from this about when it may appropriate to defend ourselves?
  • In what cases would it be right to persuade others of your good intentions?
  • What is the difference between this beneficial explanation and pride?
  • How can we reconcile Paul’s actions here with Jesus’ model of being silent and meek in the face of insults?
  • When is the “day of the Lord Jesus?” What was Paul looking forward to on that day?


Acts 24:16 – So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.

Jeremiah 9:23 – Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.

Isaiah 53:7 – He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.

Matthew 5:38-39 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

1 Corinthians 10:31 – Whether you eat therefore or drink, or if you do anything, you shall do everything for the glory of God.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. For our boast is this – In this passage Paul strongly defends himself and his actions. The word he uses is “boast.” This is almost always a negative word. It generally conveys pride. People normally boast when they seek praise from others and want to make themselves look good.

Paul did want to make himself look good. He defended himself. This appears quite different from the model we see in Jesus. Jesus was meek. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and “did not open His mouth.” He was spit on and mocked and beaten and did not mount a personal defense.

So what gives? Why the difference?

The answer is found in the motivation. Jesus did not defend Himself because of His love for us. He had a mission. He was going to sacrifice His life for sins. Therefore He allowed Himself to be killed, not because He was guilty, but because of love.

Much of 2 Corinthians is a personal letter from Paul in which he defends himself. Paul’s motivation for mounting this aggressive defense is love for the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:11). False teachers had come in and attacked Paul’s character and apostleship (2 Corinthians 11:13). But more was at stake than Paul’s reputation. Attacking Paul, their spiritual mentor, was the first step in an all-out attack against the gospel itself. If they could cause the Corinthians to reject Paul then the next step was to reject the message Paul preached.

Therefore Paul defended himself. He did so not out of a prideful desire to win their fawning adulation. But he defended himself for their good. By proving himself to be credible, he could show that his message was credible. By proving himself to be acting out of love, he could show that the loving message of the gospel was genuine. He was exposing the lies of the false teachers one at a time. The goal was to cause the Corinthians to doubt Satan and his messengers and to build trust in God and God’s messengers (Paul and his team).

Reflect: Share about a time or situation where you needed to persuade others of your good intentions for their good. Share about a time when you boasted for the wrong reasons.

We have all seen cases where it is necessary for people to prove either their credentials or their good intentions. Parents from time to time may have to tell their kids how much they sacrifice for them. This is done for the good of the children. Children should know that their parents love them and sometimes they might be tempted to doubt it. The correct motivation for defending your character to your children is for their own well-being. You want them to trust you, to love you, to listen to you, and to accept discipline. All of this is good for them.

So to might a boat captain or a pilot “boast” about his experience. It can help to calm the fears of the passengers.

In like manner a doctor may ensure a patient he knows what he is doing. The goal is to help calm the patient and also encourage the patient to follow the treatment prescribed. If a patient believes false negative reports about a doctor, he might be tempted to refuse medicine offered by that doctor, medicine that could save his life.

Boasting may at times be necessary. However, you must carefully evaluate your motivation for boasting or defending yourself. Make sure that you are doing it for the good of others and not for your own reputation.

Application: Do all for the glory of God. Whether you defend yourself, or remain silent, make sure you are doing it to please God and edify His people.

2. The testimony of our conscience –

In 1983 Avianca flight 011 was approaching Madrid. The pilot and crew were experienced with the pilot logging over 20,000 cockpit hours. He had made the approach to Madrid twenty-five times. But this time he crashed the plane into low hills 7 miles short of the airport, killing 181 people.

The black box recording showed that the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) warned him. It said again and again, “Pull up.” He responded “shut up, gringo” and turned it off. Then he crashed and everyone died.

Why did this happen? The pilot was warned, but he didn’t listen. He believed he knew the location of the plane. He thought he knew the truth about their location, but he was wrong. Our consciences act in a similar way to the GPWS. They warn us, saying “pull up” and “avoid danger” and “go the other way.” But we don’t always listen.

God gave us consciences as a built in warning system, which let us know internally the dangers of sin and warn us to change direction. Our consciences are not perfect. They are only as good as the input we receive. They hold us to the highest perceived standard of right and wrong.

Our consciences are not God’s law or the final standard. But they are the way on which our souls reflect on themselves. Consciences function more like a skylight than a lamp. Without a light of their own they shine light from other sources onto our thoughts and actions.

Believers should guard their consciences by feeding them God’s law found in Scripture. Our consciences can reflect God’s standards when we have the right input. Then we need to be sensitive to how they lead us. When we feed them the right food, our consciences can help direct us and help us to consider more deeply our own motivations.

In this passage, Paul uses his own conscience (purified by Scripture and God’s law) to evaluate his behavior (and the motivations guiding that behavior) toward the Corinthians.

Application: First, feed, shape, and mold your conscience so that it accurately reflects Scripture. Second, evaluate your thoughts and motivations. Third, be sensitive to your conscience. If you violate your own conscience, it is sin.

3. Paul’s conscience exonerated him of guilt – False teachers had evidently been attacking Paul and his team. But Paul appealed to his conscience. His conscience was properly fed with Scripture and enlightened by the Spirit. And it exonerated him completely. Paul could say with a good conscience that he acted with godly sincerity toward them.

This points to the fact that it is very difficult to know others’ hearts. We can largely know our own heart and motivations (though God is the final judge), but we often cannot accurately judge the secret thoughts and intentions of others.

This is important and has a two-fold application.


A. Do not be quick to judge others’ motivations. For man see’s the outside, but God sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). These people falsely assigned wrong motivations to Paul’s actions. It was malicious. It can be very hurtful when we assign wrong motivations to people. Can you think of any examples in the Bible where people did this? One example is David’s oldest brother Eliab.

1 Samuel 17:28 – When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.

Eliab accuses David of wicked intentions. He says, “I know how conceited you are.” In fact, Eliab did not know that. David came because his father told him to take food to his brothers.

We should be careful not to act in like manner as it can be very hurtful.

B. Do not let false accusations against you cause you guilt – When people accuse you it is wise to listen and evaluate your own heart. Search carefully for any sin. Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you. If after doing these things you have a clear conscience that you acted in obedience to God’s Word and out of the right motivation, do not worry about those accusations. Do not feel guilty just because others view you wrongly. And do not live for pleasing others or receiving affirmation. God is the one on the throne who will judge and you will answer to Him alone.

4. Paul had been straightforward with them –

“We are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand.”

Paul had communicated clearly and straightforwardly. He said what he meant and meant what he said. There was no secret agenda or duplicity.

5. On the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you – One day all doubt and suspicion would be completely wiped away. They would know clearly that Paul had only acted for their welfare. Paul looked forward to that day when there would be nothing between them in their relationship.

II. Paul had acted with faithfulness and pure motivations (15-20)

Discussion Questions

  • Why did Paul want to visit the Corinthians again?
  • What does it mean to have a “second experience of grace?” What was the first?
  • Did Paul make the trip to visit as planned?
  • What might his opponents in Corinth have said about Paul’s canceled trip?
  • What is the meaning of verses 17-18?
  • Why does Paul defend his motivations?
  • What does Paul mean about “yes and no?”
  • Are there any lessons we can from this passage about communication?
  • How can you avoid lying when you make plans or commitments?
  • Before you agree to something, what should do you first?


Matthew 21:28-31 – “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.

Matthew 5:37 – Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

James 4:13-15 – Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2 – Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart  to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. I wanted to come to you first so that you may have a second experience of grace (15-16) –

The first experience of grace is when Paul visited Corinth the first time and established the church.

The key issue in this chapter seems to be that Paul had told them of plans to visit them again, but then finally did not visit. His opponents jumped on this and used it as a means to attack him. And that is the catalyst for why Paul mounts this vigorous defense of his motives and communication with them to this point.

Paul had expressed a desire to visit them on his way to Macedonia, but it didn’t pan out.

2. Was I vacillating and saying “yes” and “no”? – Paul continues to defend his motivations. He did plan to visit them. Sincere in this desire, he wasn’t just saying it to pretend that he had affection for them. Paul did not say “yes” but mean “no.” He meant it.

The words we speak are important. Jesus said to “let your yes be yes and your no by no.” And He also told a parable of two sons. One of these sons told his father that he would go work in the vineyard, but he didn’t go. The son wanted to please the father, but his words did not match his deeds (Matthew 21:28-31).

And in James 4:13-15 we learn that we should say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

It is not clear whether or not Paul did say “if it is the Lord’s will.” Clearly he followed this principle since he wanted to go and later did not when God led otherwise.

Note also that Paul says he “wanted” to visit them. It does not appear that he made this a guarantee.

However, his opponents seized on this and accused him of only pretending to want to visit. Their evil words would have been something like the following: “Paul does not really care about you. He only pretended to want to visit. If he actually wanted to visit, he would have been here. We are here. We care for you. Listen to us, not Paul!”

Application: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Do not make rash promises. Do not agree to take on responsibilities in order to please others. Do not quickly say “yes” and take on commitments. Do not quickly sign your name on a contract under pressure. Slow down. Pray. Seek God’s will. And be sure before you give your word. Your word should be your bond. When you are ready to make a commitment, make sure you let it be known that according to God’s will you will do this or that. But once you have made that commitment, be responsible and fulfill it.

III. Paul and the Corinthians were one family in Christ (21-24)

Discussion Questions

  • What did Paul have in common with the Corinthians?
  • How is this unity in Christ relevant to Paul’s explanations about why he didn’t visit them?
  • Why did Paul not end up going to Corinth?
  • In what way would it “spare them” for him not to visit?
  • What can you learn from verse 24 about discipleship? About leadership?


2 Corinthians 13:11 – Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Romans 12:16 – Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Romans 14:19 – So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

1 Corintahins 12:12 – For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

Matthew 20:28 – Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 23:11 – The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. God establishes us with you in Christ – Paul’s care for the Corinthians did not come just out of his own mind or desires. God gave it to him. The love that Paul had for them and the care that he had shown them were because of Christ’s work in him and in them. They were a family, not because Paul had chosen to make them his family, but because God did.

This is the unity that they had. God called Paul to serve them. They were on the same team!

2. Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus (Silas) were saved – Paul and his team had been transformed by Christ. He and the Corinthians were saved the way by Christ. They were anointed by Him, sealed by him, and given the Spirit as a guarantee.

Together with the Corinthians, they were partakers of the divine grace.

Ephesians 4:4-6 – There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Instead of the nitpicking and conflict, it was time to put that completely behind them and realize they are on the same team with the same Lord.

3. It was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth – Here Paul finally gives the reason why he changed his mind and decided not to go in Corinth. It was to “spare them.” Probably this meant that Paul wanted to give them adequate time to repent of sin before a confrontation. Another visit to them would have been “painful” (2:1), so he instead communicated back and forth via letters.

Sometimes written form of communication can be better than spoken form.

Reflect: When might writing a letter be better than talking face to face?

Some advantages of writing letter include:

  • Time to think carefully exactly what needs to be said and how to word it.
  • Time for both sides to step back and cool off before responding.
  • Helps take some emotion out of it.
  • You can erase and re-write parts of letters, but you cannot take spoken words back again.
  • Allows you to make your complete case without interruption.
  • It can show that you are serious and “mean business” since it is more formal.

Obviously we do not and should always communicate via letter, but there are times when it is useful and even superior to face to face communication. The times when it can be most useful is when one party does not listen and instead interrupts and argues to the point where it is very difficult to have a conversation. If you have something important to say and another person will not give you the time to say it, then write a letter.

4. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy – Paul describes his philosophy as a disciple maker. It is the same philosophy taught by Jesus. Jesus told His disciples not to “lord it over” others like the Gentiles, but to be a servant. He Himself came “not be to be served but to serve.” (Matthew 20:28)

Leaders in the church should not rule like kings. Instead they are to serve. Leading by serving is the model established by Jesus. And it inspires people to follow. The church would greatly benefit if more Christian leaders followed this verse and decided to work with their congregations instead of ruling over their congregations. Every person in the church is on the team. Every person has a spiritual gift. Every person has a role. Some are feet, some are eyes, and some are brains. Leaders should seek to inspire their congregations to join in with them in building God’s kingdom. It is a group effort! And when leaders humbly serve this way (as Paul did) it makes it much easier to follow them.

2 Corinthians E-book: This entire study guide is available to download from our store or as a paperback version from Amazon.

2 Corinthians 2:1-11
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