Join us as we study through 2 Corinthians verse by verse. Our discussion questions, teaching points, 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 3:1-6 Inductive Bible Study and Questions

I. Paul’s recommendation letter is the Corinthians themselves (1-3)
II. Sufficiency is from God (4-6)

I. Paul’s recommendation letter is the Corinthians themselves (1-3)

Discussion Questions

  • Paul asks, “are we beginning to commend ourselves again?” Was he? If so, why?
  • Why would Paul need a letter of recommendation to the Corinthians?
  • What does Paul mean that “you yourselves are our letter of recommendation?”
  • How were the Corinthians themselves a witness to Paul’s sincerity and credibility?
  • How can the testimony of a person be more powerful than a written letter as a reference?

Teaching Points

1. Are we beginning to commend ourselves? – In much of the first two chapters of 2 Corinthians, Paul has defended himself. False teachers had been attacking his credibility. The risk was that if they rejected Paul, then they may also reject his message, the gospel. As God’s messenger to the Corinthians, any loss of credibility would affect Paul’s ability to lead the church and disciple its members. Therefore Paul defended himself in order to defend the gospel.

In this chapter, the defense continues. Paul asks, “are we beginning to commend ourselves?” His question is meant to drive home the point that Paul should need no re-introduction to the Corinthians. They should have been well acquainted with him and his history. He was not a stranger, but a friend who had been among them and had a relationship with them. Paul was not just some wandering preacher they had never met.

2. Do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation? – In today’s business world we are familiar with this concept. Before getting hired to a new job, you often have to provide references. These references vouch for your character and work history, also proving the facts listed on your resume.

The early church had a similar practice. Believers or Christian workers who moved to a new town would procure a recommendation letter from their previous church. This letter would be written by leaders of their church who know them. It would introduce them as a believer in a good standing and with upright character. When they came to a new place, they would then show this letter to the church there. The recommendation letter would be evidence that the newcomer was not a trouble maker or a false teacher.

Some people needed such an introduction. Paul does not! They knew him already. He should not have to do such things to win their trust.

The modern day practice of church membership in part stems from this. Some churches still ask for or write recommendation letters for their members who move to a new place. These letters can help the new church make sure that the incoming member is a faithful follower of Christ in good standing in the community and not embroiled in scandal or under church discipline.

3. You yourselves are our letter of introduction – Paul’s letter of introduction was the Corinthians themselves. They not only knew who he was, but their faith in Christ was a direct result of Paul’s work on their behalf. The church was established by Paul. Their transformed lives was evidence of Paul’s good character and faithful service.

This could well be the strongest point Paul has yet made in his defense. The Corinthians did not need to look elsewhere to find evidence of Paul’s credibility. All they had to do was look at themselves and their own changed lives.

4. To be known and read by all – This recommendation “letter” was not just read by the leaders or a select group. Everybody could see with their own eyes evidence that Paul was on their side.

5. A letter not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God – Even in the midst of his defense, Paul gives the glory to God. He says that they are a “letter from Christ” and written by the “Spirit.” Paul delivered this “letter” so to speak. But he didn’t write it. God was still the author of salvation. And Paul was his faithful servant.

II. Sufficiency is from God (4-6)

Discussion Questions

  • Is confidence good or bad?
  • Are you confident?
  • Was Paul confident? In what?
  • What is the difference between self-confidence and confidence in God?
  • What is Paul recognizing when he says, “our sufficiency is from God?”
  • How does this statement connect to the last passage studied in chapter 2:11-17?
  • In what ways does God “make us sufficient” to be ministers of a new covenant?
  • Can you share examples of times God helped you when you shared the gospel or your testimony with others?
  • What does Paul mean that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life?”

Cross-References

Proverbs 3:26 – For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.

Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Hebrews 13:6 – So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Proverbs 28:26 – Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.

Teaching Points

1. Confidence in God (4-5) – In chapter Paul said that they were led in “triumphal procession” and spreading the “fragrance of knowledge of Him everywhere.” He also said that they were the “aroma of Christ.” Then he asked “who is sufficient for these things?”

The answer is clear in verses 4-5 here.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.

Paul and his team were messengers for God. They proclaimed the gospel of Jesus in new places like a triumphant procession. They did so with confidence.

Reflect: Is confidence good or bad? What is the difference between self-confidence and confidence in God?

Confidence in oneself is misplaced and a form of pride (Philippians 3:1-4). In the world today, confidence is generally viewed as a good thing. Trust in yourself. Trust in your abilities. Be assertive to pursue what you want in life.

However, the Bible reveals many flaws in this worldly wisdom. Firstly, we are all sinners, totally depraved. Our hearts are deceitful. Secondly, our intelligence, skills, and strengths are limited and flawed. Many a self-confident person has gone down in flames (Proverbs 16:18).

So what is the alternative? Am I suggesting a cowering, nervous, and fearful demeanor? Should we go around afraid to speak in public, too nervous to apply for a top position, wracked with self-doubt? Of course not.

In this passage we see Paul and his team boldly declaring the truth of God. Throughout Acts they stood up to the opposition. They preached with power and threats and intimidation did not stop their work. This bold confidence did not come from themselves, but from God. It was He who transformed their lives. He filled them with the Spirit. He empowered their ministry, guided their plans, and gave them supernatural peace and courage to face numerous obstacles and powerful enemies. If you saw Paul, you would not think “what a cowering loser.” No, you would think “here is a mighty man of God.”

And in fact the religious leaders were amazed at Jesus’ disciples, uneducated fishermen who spoke with power and authority (Acts 4:13).

Application: Our confidence should come from God.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

It is so natural for us to fall back on self. We trust in our education. We trust in our skills. We trust in our bank account. We trust in our logic. We trust in our decision making or our abilities to make ends meet.

Reflect: How does self-confidence instead of God-confidence manifest itself in our lives?

  • Lack of prayer. If we trust in our own abilities we will not come before God and petition for His help nearly as much as we should.
  • Lack of preparation. If we trust in our own skills, we may think we have mastered something and don’t need to prepare properly.
  • Lack of quality time with the Lord.
  • Assuming that everything will go according to our plans and being too rigid to realize when God is altering them.
  • Undue disappointment when we fail or face criticism.
  • Procrastination.
  • Stress and anxiety. Because we think that our fate is in our own hands it will rob us of peace and cause more nerves and stress.

Discuss how you can find your sufficiency in Christ instead of in yourselves in the following roles or tasks.

  • Preaching a sermon or leading a Bible study.
  • Disciplining your children.
  • Going for a job interview.
  • Taking an exam.
  • Sharing the gospel.

Paul says, “not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us.” Recognizing that truth is step one in placing complete confidence in God rather than yourselves. James said that “every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17). Every single good thing we have is from God. Any ability we have is from God. Our intelligence, strengths, logic, and spiritual gifts are all from God. Our opportunities in life are given to us by God.

You have never had one single success apart from Christ’s blessing on your life. That is not hyperbole. It is true. Even atheists with successes in the eyes of the world have Jesus to thank. He gave them their brains and their health and their skills and everything else, whether they recognize it or not. And if that is true for the worldly successes of atheists, it is even more true for the spiritual successes of God’s people. Zero spiritual success comes from self.

John 15:5 – I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

The first key to being completely dependent on Christ is to have the mindset described above. We must believe that everything good in our lives is from God. If we believe that and remember it, then it will have a trickle down effect to every area of our lives.

We also need to recognize specific ways that we act (such s forgetting to pray) when self-confidence sneaks in. If we are wary about that, then we can quickly right course by coming back to Jesus when we begin to drift.

2. Who has made us sufficient to be ministers of the new covenant – God transformed Paul and his team, turning them into diplomats of heaven. They were ministers. It wasn’t because of their educational background. And it wasn’t because of their pure lives. It was because Jesus transformed them. And Jesus sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would empower them for this ministry.

Application: If you are saved, then you too are a minister of the new covenant. It is not that you will be at some future time after finishing seminary or getting ordained. No. Every believer is called by God to be His ambassadors. Are you doing it? Are you performing the role of a minister?

3. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life – The old covenant acted as a mirror to reveal our sin. The new covenant offers a permanent solution to that sin in Christ. The law condemns because no one can keep it all the time. But the blood of Jesus cleanses our sins and sets us free, giving us new life.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

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