Comments on Second Corinthians
This Epistle (as the First) is written to the assembly, so that it also has in view the proper functioning of the body of Christ in unity. The questions of order and government are not so prominent here, however, but that of ministry for the building up of the body. Paul is seen as a lovely example of proper and fruitful ministry, an example intended to affect every believer in diligently seeking to serve in similar unselfish devotion. Being a Second Epistle, it contemplates a state, not of lack of knowledge simply, but of departure in spite of knowledge. Corinth had less excuse for failure after Paul had written his First Epistle; yet in spite of some good effects of this, there were things still not corrected, and his patient, serious, faithful ministry of the word is instructive for us in dealing with a too unresponsive condition.
It is again with apostolic authority that Paul writes, the will of God, a predominant matter in the epistle. While Paul uses his authority in lowliness, yet he must assert God's authority in writing. Here, however, instead of Sosthenes, he links Timothy with him, a young man well known for his genuine care for souls, a true minister of God; and who had recently visited the Corinthians, possibly having carried Paul's First Epistle to them.
While the assembly of God at Corinth is addressed, yet rather than all saints in every place being added (as in 1 Cor.), only all the saints in Achaia are included here. We know, of course, that it is the truth of the First Epistle that many would like to disown, and God has plainly anticipated this. Generally, however, there is no difficulty in saints everywhere owning the value of 2 Corinthians, though we too easily acknowledge it without following it. But Achaia means "wailing," and denotes for us the character of the sphere in which ministry is required; for all around us in the world is hopeless misery, and ministry must make its way through suffering, the vessel brought low to the extremity of the sentence of death in himself, in order for others to be blessed.
But again they are wished "grace" first, that which lifts above circumstances; then "peace," which is tranquillity in spite of circumstances - from the eternal God, who is Father, and revealed in His beloved Son.
And verse 3 shows the heart of Paul full of responsive appreciation of the faithfulness of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, not, as in Ephesians, for the unspeakable blessings in the heavenlies eternally secured for every saint of God, but for abounding grace and encouragement given of God amid stern tribulation. In practice, he has found Him "the Father of compassions, and the God of all encouragement." And the encouragement He gives not only eases their burden, but arms them with ability to encourage others who may be in any trouble, by communicating the same comfort by which God encourages them. This is not merely passive, but active faith.
Verse 5 refers to the sufferings of Christ in His earthly service (not on the cross), and such sufferings abounded in the apostles. They suffered because devoted to the ministry of Christ; and so truly felt for His interests in souls that everything contrary to this meant suffering. But this being so, their encouragement also abounded by Christ: He could not fail them in such service. The word for comfort or consolation here is more rightly translated "encouragement," for it is that which stirs one to active ministry.
One reason, therefore, for the sufferings of the apostles, was that it might work for the encouragement and salvation of the saints (a salvation in practical experience, of course). For the endurance of the apostles in suffering would be effectual in encouraging the saints to willingly endure the same sufferings. And the encouragement enjoyed by the apostles would have the same precious effect.
Verse 7, too, shows the confidence Paul had in the reality of God's work in the Corinthians: he and Timothy did not waver as to this. Though no doubt it was not in great measure that the Corinthians were partakers of their sufferings, yet the fact of their identification with them did involve this in some real way; and they counted upon the Corinthians being encouraged, too, along with them.
In 1 Corinthians 16:9 he had spoken of "many adversaries," in the area of Ephesus, and after this the enmity increased, so that verse 8 evidently refers particularly to the culmination of the persecution at the time of the uproar caused by Demetrius (Acts 19:23-41). The pressure became intense, beyond Paul's strength to naturally endure, so that he despaired even of life. Thus, sometimes the vessel is brought down to a point where there is, naturally speaking, no hope of survival: God is the only resource. The sentence of death was so deeply imprinted upon their souls that all self-confidence melted away: they were cast utterly upon God. But He is a God who raises the dead.
God's divine power had intervened to deliver them from so great a death. Moreover, it is a constantly active delivering power: through whatever circumstances they passed, this was true, and no doubt often they sensed and knew it. Indeed, every child of God may count upon this, for it is a fact, however little or much we realize it at any given time. And future deliverance is assured, too, whatever form that deliverance may take. In its fullest sense, of course, this will be when we are taken out of this world to be with Christ.
In such deliverance, too, the prayers of saints have a precious part. For prayer is a ministry we must not lightly regard. God sees fit, by means of this, to bestow grace for the help of His beloved servants, and this itself increases thanksgiving to God on the part of many, on behalf of the encouraged servants. Thus, hearts are drawn out in affection for each other, true service is encouraged, and God is glorified by much thanksgiving.
Verse 12, though touching on delicate ground, is a statement confirmed by the Spirit of God as to the character and conduct of the apostles in relation to the Corinthians. An upright and clear conscience gave them the liberty of genuine rejoicing as to their manner of life before the world, and even more manifestly before the Corinthians. For this had been in simplicity (in contrast to duplicity), and in godly sincerity: it was the honor of God and the pure blessing of souls that moved them. This lowly moral integrity should have certainly had great weight, but evidently the Corinthians were forgetting this. For they knew it well, as verse 13 indicates; and how important that they should also consider it well! For Paul was writing only what they well knew and recognized (see F. W. Grant's Numerical Bible), trusting that they would continue to honestly recognize. For this would be only consistent with their original recognition of these servants of the Lord, at least in part. He does not insist that this recognition was unmeasured, but whatever the measure they did have true rejoicing in Paul and his fellow workers, with "the day of the Lord Jesus" in view, just as the servants had joy in them in view of "that day." It was not something to be lost before the day of manifestation. Honesty could never dismiss all recognition of the apostles' honesty.
It was in the confidence of this that Paul had desired to come on a second occasion to Corinth, the reason being their own benefit, a necessary reminder for them. However, he did not do this, but apparently went north through the Aegean Sea to Macedonia first, and no doubt writes this epistle from there (Cf. Acts 20:1).
Had he changed his mind for no sufficient reason? Or had his first plans been insincere? Was he indifferent as to what plans he made and changed? No, he had genuinely desired to go very soon to Corinth, and he appeals even to the very nature of God in this matter: as He is true, so their first word had been dependable, not "yea and nay."
In verses 19 to 22 he leaves aside his own defence, while giving a beautiful statement of the solid, dependable, unchanging character of the pure truth of God as revealed in His beloved Son, and confirmed in the power of the Holy Spirit. Verse 23 gives the reasons for Paul's delaying his visit to Corinth.
They knew there was no duplicity in the preaching of Paul, Silas, and Timothy: it was direct and unequivocal: Jesus Christ the Son of God was declared in positive reality, as the One in whom all the promises of God have been fulfilled perfectly. "Yea" would speak of this as affirmed by God as positively true. "Amen" is the proper response of faith in the subject hearer. This was ministered "by us," the servants, but to the glory of God, who had sent them.
The work by which they and the Corinthians had been established together in Christ, had been done by God. It was no mere agreement among themselves, as though they were at liberty to handle the whole matter as they pleased. They were now the workmanship of God, and in unity established by Him. In demonstration of this, He had anointed them. This speaks of the dignity and power (or capacity) conferred on them by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Precious indeed it is, but not given to be used in independency. Two additional benefits of having the Spirit are also included here; the sealing and the earnest of the Spirit. As the Seal, He is the indelible mark of God's ownership, set upon the believers. As the Earnest, He is the pledge and foretaste of eternal glory with Christ. Observe here again that it is the pure, positive reality of all this that is here emphasized, for it is God who is the source of all.
Now Paul is prepared to give his honest reason, as in the presence of God, for having delayed in coming to Corinth. It had been simply to spare them. This may be compared with Chapter 12:20,21. He deeply desired that before he came they might have learned to judge themselves in respect to disorders among them, so that he would not have to use his stern, apostolic authority. This Second Epistle is an effort to awaken them to a more serious sense of responsibility as to this, before his coming. It is sad that the Corinthians had allowed themselves to become so suspicious of Paul's motives that he has to call God for a witness upon his soul, to confirm the truth of what he writes.
For though he was an apostle, he insists that he has no dominion over their faith; he was exercised rather to use his authority in helping them in rejoicing in the Lord. For it was by personal, vital faith that they stood. If he were required to use his authority sharply, it would be to attack and destroy that which was not faith on their part, so that faith would be free to enable them to stand. But he wanted them now to learn to act in faith, without his presence there, so that his coming to them later might be with no need of censuring them. This would be true joy for them, faith being in active operation.
These first few verses are a continuation of chapter 1. Paul had purposed that he would not come to the Corinthians "in heaviness," and for this reason delayed his visit. For his First Epistle was such that it would tend to deeply plough them up, and make them sorry. He did not want to continue the same reproving ministry when he came to them. If they were made sorry in such a way as to correct the wrongs among them, then of course they would make him glad. So he had written with the earnest desire of such a result. In coming to them, he did not want to have sorrow, but to have from them the normal joy of seeing the truth prosper in souls who were after all his own brethren. For in reality Paul's joy is the proper joy of all believers, for it is joy in the Lord, and in the pure truth of His Word. He could have confidence then that this too was their joy, though it had needed the First Epistle to clear away the rubbish that obscured their true joy.
But he assures them that it was far from a joy to write that letter: his anguish and many tears were however, both because of the seriousness of the evil that had attacked them, and because he did not desire to grieve them. Yet true love for them required his writing.
In verse 5 he refers to the man he had required them to put out of their fellowship (1 Cor. 5). He had caused grief, not merely to Paul (in case anyone thought this was the important factor), but in part to them all. Compare the New Translation of J. N. Darby here. He says "in part" because he does not want to overcharge them, or to make them so opposed to the man that they would have no genuine desire for his recovery and restoration.
For it is evident that they had obeyed Paul's instructions to put away the man. Now it is just as serious that the man be restored. The discipline had achieved its proper end in leading the man to self-judgment and ceasing from his sin. It is to be noted that the "punishment" or "rebuke" had been inflicted by "the many." Perhaps not every individual in the assembly had fully concurred in this (as is sometimes the case), but it was nevertheless a true assembly judgment, in obedience to God. Now he is to be forgiven publicly, and comforted, or encouraged: otherwise discipline might be carried to such an extreme as to swallow up the offender in sorrow. Paul entreats them to assure the man of their love. Once the guilt is properly judged and stopped, this should always be the case.
For Paul's writing them first (and certainly this second time also) involves the question as to whether the Corinthians had concern to be obedient to the truth of God, whether as to judging the evil, or in regard now to the forgiving of the offender.
Verse 10 shows the excellent spirit of unity on Paul's part. If he had required unity in reference to judgment, it is to be true as to forgiveness too: he would concur with their forgiving and restoring this brother. His forgiveness in such a case too, is for their sakes, and as in the Person of Christ; for certainly a true restoration of the man would be for their own blessing, and consistent with the character of the Person of Christ, He who is the Center of unity.
But there was also a danger of Satan getting an advantage of the saints. If at first he would threaten the assembly by introducing moral evil, in this case his threat is rather that of producing, in saints, a mere self-righteous attitude that does not forgive even when repentance is evident. Satan's devices are numerous, and cunning: the apostles were not ignorant of these, and neither ought we to be.
Verse 12 shows that, though Paul had left Ephesus to go into Macedonia (Acts 20:1), he had stopped at Troas, where the Lord had opened a door for the preaching of the gospel. Yet he did not stay, because he had no rest in his spirit. Evidently he had thought that Titus may have come there from Corinth, but it was not so. And Paul's concern as to Corinth would not allow him to stay at Troas in spite of the open door. He deeply desired to learn from Titus how the Corinthians had received his first letter, so he went on to Macedonia. Notice, the New Translation, "I came into Macedonia," not "went." Compare chapter 7:5,6. He did not find Titus when he arrived there, but Titus did come afterward, which was a great comfort to Paul. No doubt it was because of the good news Titus brought that Paul speaks as he does in verse 14.
His heart expands in thanksgiving to God, who "always leads us in triumph in Christ." Not that it is their triumph, but His, while they are His willing captives, led as it were in His victory procession. He has triumphed, not only over them, but over all their circumstances, making all these things subserve His perfect will. And through them the savour of His knowledge was made manifest. Their willing subjection to His leading was a precious witness to the greatness of His triumph and glory. This was as true in regard to those who perish as to those who are saved. The servants' subjection and
devotion to Christ was a sweet savour to God, for it was a true representation of Him. If one rejected this, yet he had been given the honest witness that such rejection was choosing death; and God is glorified in the righteous carrying out of the sentence of death. On the other hand, the life promised in Christ is as absolutely real; and God is glorified in the reception of life by the believing heart.
What an honor to be in the place of representing God in Christ! No wonder the apostle asks, "And who is sufficient for these things?" The answer is found in chapter 3:5. The solemnity of such a trust certainly requires the sincerity and truth that trembles at the Word of God. There were "many" who made a trade of the Word of God, manipulating it by cunning deceit to serve their own selfish interests; and today their number is multiplied. Paul was in constant exercise of soul to guard thoroughly against such a thing. The Word means precisely what God intends it to mean, and I am not at liberty to interpret it simply as I see fit; but to seek in it God's own mind. No doubt it has various applications, but I must be seriously careful before God to apply it consistently with the rest of Scripture. The servant is to faithfully represent God, in single-eyed sincerity, with a sense always of acting and speaking as "in the sight of God." Compare chapter 4:3.
Did the Corinthians assume that Paul was merely commending himself or defending himself in penning the last verse of chapter 2? It was not so; but necessity demanded that they should recognize that he was giving them the pure, plain truth of God, not a mere human interpretation of it. He required no letter of commendation to them; for they knew him, and were themselves the commendation of his work. For this latter reason too he needed no letter from them: their own established assembly was the fruit of his own labour, therefore "our epistle, known and read of all men." They themselves were his own evident message to all men.
Verse 3 goes further, and no doubt its force includes, not only the Corinthians, but the entire body of Christ, the Church of God; for it is "the epistle of Christ," not simply of Paul and of his fellow-servants. Every member of the body of Christ is necessary in order that the message of Christ might be properly represented before the world. It is not each believer individually who is a letter, but all collectively form the one letter of Christ to the world.
This is ministered by the apostles, for they have communicated the truth by which the Church is established, and by which she is enabled to represent Christ before the world. But this letter is written, not with ink, not as a formal declaration, but by the Spirit of the Living God; therefore in the power of living reality. And in contrast to the ten commandments written in tables of stone, this is written in fleshy tables of the heart. For the law was as hard and cold and impersonal as the stones upon which it was written. The Spirit of God writes upon that which is both living and yielding, impressing and affecting the heart, which responds thankfully, affectionately, spontaneously. Certainly therefore it was proper that these servants should have such trust toward God as would enable them to prove faithful in the trust given them of ministering the new covenant in unadulterated purity.
God had not chosen the apostles on account of their own competency in matters so great and marvellous, for this was infinitely beyond mere human competency in any case. But when He chooses a vessel, He supplies the ability for carrying out the work with which He entrusts that vessel. It was God Himself who had made them competent as ministers of this new covenant, and Paul would not in any way separate the competency from its source: if so the competency is immediately lost.
"Not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." He is plainly speaking here of the cold, rigid letter of the law, the old covenant, in contrast to the living power of the Spirit of God in the new covenant. This in no way belittles the exactitude of every word of Scripture, as given in the original languages; for it is the Spirit of God who has inspired every "jot and title:" indeed, Paul communicated "words" "which the Holy Ghost teacheth," not merely thoughts (1 Cor. 2:13). But the new covenant is not on the principle of peremptory legal requirement, "the letter" therefore that demands obedience; but on the principle of that living grace that supplies the Spirit of God as the power for devoted and willing obedience. The letter of the law only sentences man rightly to death. But the Spirit gives life, so infinite a contrast.
Therefore, the legal covenant is called "the ministration of death." It was perfectly righteous and holy, engraven in stones, so that it began with glory (see New Translation), a glory reflected in the face of Moses, the skin of his face so shining that the children of Israel could not endure looking at him (Ex. 34:29). Yet this glory was only temporary, a glory only reflected in the face of Moses, not by any means intrinsic.
But the ministration of the Spirit is itself glory, the manifestation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is intrinsic glory, that which reveals the preciousness of all that is within Him, the very nature of the eternal God. Therefore it is a glory altogether impossible of being done away: it subsists.
In verse 9 the legal covenant is called "the ministration of condemnation'! in contrast to the Spirit's "ministration of righteousness." which latter abounds in glory infinitely higher than the former. Because law demanded righteousness, it actually brought only condemnation, for man is unrighteous. The Spirit of God, on the other hand, coming on the precious, solid basis of the accomplished redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary, brings righteousness.
The legal covenant was "made glorious," as illustrated in the skin of Moses' face - the exterior - shining. This was reflected glory; and of course it has no remote comparison to the excelling, intrinsic glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The first therefore is rightly done away, that it might give place to the second, which "subsists in glory."
The Spirit then having implanted in saints today such certainty of hope, the apostle can say, "We use great boldness of speech." Bondage, fear, doubtfulness is gone, in beautiful contrast to the trembling apprehensions of the children of Israel at the time of their receiving the law. Because they could not endure looking upon the face of Moses, he put a veil over his face. And though this was only a small reflection of God's glory, yet it illustrated the fact that under law man could not in the least way look upon God's glory.
Israel, today, because they still choose law rather than Christ, are in a similar state. But the veil is not over God's face, but on their heart. Their minds are blinded: as they read the Old Testament they see nothing of the fact that it constantly directs them toward the New Testament: they prefer to have the veil there to keep them from too close - and precious - contact with the Living God. In actual fact, the veil is done away in Christ, but they refuse Christ, and choose the darkness of the veil.
But Israel will yet turn to the Lord, though the time of her unbelief has been long, and her suffering through the ages greater than that of any other nation. And it will take the most dreadful tribulation of all history, and the personal appearing of the Lord Jesus Himself before their eyes, to finally break down their resistance in repentance and faith. The veil will suddenly fall from their eyes.
Verse 17 refers back to verse 8, for it may be questioned as to what the ministry of the Spirit really is. It is that which directs us solely to the Lord, for there is perfect unity and interdependency between the Lord Jesus and the Spirit of God, just as there is between the Father and the Son. The Spirit would not engage our thoughts with His operations within us, but with Christ, who is infinitely above us. This is true liberty.
Yet this does produce a marvellous subjective effect. As our eyes are turned from ourselves to behold the glory of the Lord, so the results show in ourselves. It is not a reflection here, but "with unveiled face" we behold, by the Spirit of God, the glory of the Lord Jesus, and are changed from glory to glory. As one remarks: "This goes on from glory to glory, but the least measure of it is glory." The Lord, the Spirit is the absorbing Object and power by which we are formed in the same image. Wonderful contemplation! And it is the proper contemplation for every dear child of God.
Chapters 4 and 5 now show some of the precious, practical results of this ministry, seen in those entrusted with it; for it is such a ministry itself that works powerfully in them to enable them to communicate it. Considering the marvel of the ministry they have, and receiving mercy from God, they faint not. Why should one be discouraged when he has goods to freely give which are infinitely better than all that for which man is willing to pay dearly? Of course there is Satanic opposition, but the mercy of God far outweighs this.
The pure truth of the ministry too, causes the true servant to thoroughly renounce the hidden things of dishonesty. It allows no cunning manipulation, no deceitful use of the Word of God: these things, though seen always in every false religion, and all the imitations of Christianity, are totally foreign to the ministry of Christ. Transparent honesty is the only normal attitude then for him who has this ministry; and the apostles by their conduct commended themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. Men might not approve of them, but their conscience at least could not be offended by the honest conduct of these servants of God.
Their gospel did not involve secretive mysteries: it was clearly, plainly declared. If hidden at all, it was so only to those who are lost, whose minds are blinded to clearly published facts. It is Satan, the god of this world, who so blinds them, not that he is able to do it without their being willing: he uses such bait as the attractions of this world, with its present gain and pleasure, and the glitter of such passing vanities blinds men's minds to the infinitely greater gain and pleasure in Christ. Men will easily reject facts in favour of fantasy that attracts their feelings for the time. "The gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" has no radiance for them: they simply "believe not."
Observe here that the gospel is not designated as that "of the grace of God," but "of the glory of Christ." It is the same gospel, but it is not here its gracious benefits toward man emphasized, but its revelation of God's glory in the face of Christ. This is good news indeed. His glory is supreme, and far more important than our blessing. It is not so much here the question of Christ being in glory, but of the glory that is in Christ. He is "the image (the full representation) of God."
But it is "Christ Jesus the Lord" who is preached, His official title in resurrection, He to whom every knee must bow. As to the apostles who did the preaching, they were simply "your servants for Jesus' sake." And this precious name Jesus used alone reminds us of His lowly path of suffering on earth, in which character they are glad to be identified with Him as to their willing service.
Verse 6 doubtless refers to Genesis 1:3, where the voice of God in majestic power brought light immediately to displace the darkness. Just so, the darkness of our sinful hearts has been as miraculously dispelled by the Word of God entering as radiant light, to reveal to us His own blessed glory in the face of Jesus Christ. It is no doubt the power of the Spirit of God working in conjunction with the Word of God that so enlightens the darkness of one who bows his heart and trusts the Lord Jesus. In chapter 3 the Spirit's work was emphasized, but in chapter 4 it is rather that to which the Spirit bears witness, the glory of the Person of Christ; so that the Spirit is not mentioned in this chapter.
How splendid a treasure to have in earthen vessels! The vessel is nothing in comparison to the treasure it contains. God has so designed the vessel in its utter weakness, in infinite contrast to the light of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ; so that such light would more beautifully shine out as having its source only in the Living God. "The surpassingness of the power" is clearly of God, and not of the vessel.
The apostles were not displaying their own ability to do things for God; but rather showing themselves to be simply controlled by the power of God. It is the creature taking his own place, in order to give to the Creator His place of pre-eminence.
In order for the light to shine more brightly, the vessel must be humbled. One is reminded of Gideon's three hundred men, who were told to break their vessels in order for the light to shine from within (Judg. 7:16-31). This process of breaking is seen in verses 8 to 10. "Every way afflicted, but not straitened" (New Translation), that is, not to the point of frustration. "Seeing no apparent issue, but our way not entirely shut up." This is far from easy, yet God always made a way. "Persecuted, but not abandoned." However great the persecution, to have God's presence in it is far more than compensation for it. "Cast down, but not destroyed." This was deep suffering to the flesh, but as Proverbs tells us, a righteous man may fall seven times, and rise up again (Prov. 24:16).
But how could one possibly endure constant pressure of this kind? Does verse 9 not give the answer? Their Lord Himself in lowly grace and submission, had suffered even unto death; and the precious sense of their identification with Him is involved in "bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus." The constant remembrance of this is a marvellous source of endurance; and this patience in humiliation made manifest in their body the life of Jesus, the same life evident in Him in His path of suffering, life that could shine out most sweetly in circumstances of death.
Does verse 12 not imply that the apostles willingly took this path of death working in them, in order that the results might be seen of life working in those for whom they laboured? They sought not results in themselves, but in others.
Verse 13 quotes Psalm 116:10. The psalmist had been brought very low, yet God delivered him from death, and faith brightly shines out, a faith that means implicit confidence in God, and no confidence in the flesh. This gave decided boldness in speaking; and the same spirit of faith moved the apostles in their speaking as with the authority of God. For they spoke from the viewpoint of vital, assured knowledge. Just as God had raised up the Lord Jesus out of death, so there was absolutely no question that He would raise up the apostles "with Jesus," to be presented in glory together with the Corinthians, the fruit of their labour.
And it is not the Corinthians alone he would include in this. Verse 15 is more correctly translated, "For all things are for your sakes, that the grace abounding through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God." The willing suffering of the apostles was for the sake of the saints, and "the many" to whom grace abounds would certainly include the entire body of Christ. Do we not also today profoundly thank God for the faithful representation of Christ on the part of the apostles in their many afflictions for the truth's sake? Through this thanksgiving abounds to the glory of God. This itself to Paul was most precious fruit.
Verse 1 has shown the ministry of Christ itself gave courage: verse 16 shows that the results of it encourage the servants in not fainting. If the outward man was brought down by opposition to the dust of death, yet there was inward renewal, by means of communion with God, whose miraculous power and grace, day by day, they thereby experienced. And there was future, eternal compensation before them. In view of this, Paul's triumph of faith is precious, in speaking of his present affliction as only "light." And even his abundance of adjectives here, "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," does not fully describe the glory that shall be revealed. Things eternal alone are worth our real interest.
Unquestioned certainty as to the future, and present confidence of faith are seen here further developed. "We know" is the proper language of Christianity. "The earthly house of this tabernacle" is of course what is called the "earthen vessel" and "outward man" in chapter 4: that is, our physical body as it is today. There is no cause for alarm if it is dissolved, for it is only intended to be temporary. In fact, it is said (though we are not in present possession of it) that "We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens." That is, it is just as certain as though we were already inhabiting it. This is no doubt "the body that shall be," "a spiritual body," in contrast to that natural. For in resurrection the Lord Jesus shall change our body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His body of glory (Phil. 3:21). Our bodies then, in altered form, will be like that of the Lord Jesus. Meantime we groan, in desire to be clothed upon with that precious "house that is of heaven." It is not here "from heaven," as though this was its origin; but "of heaven," that is heavenly in character, suited to heavenly and spiritual conditions.
"If, at least, that being clothed, we shall not be found naked." From this viewpoint then it is possible to be clothed and yet naked. It is the unbeliever who will be found naked; so that, the resurrection body of the unbeliever, while clothing his soul and spirit, will not cover the shame of his nakedness. This verse then guards against unbelief assuming itself safe. True confidence is only for the child of faith.
Our present body, here called "this tabernacle," is one of humiliation, in which we groan, as does all creation today, having burdens and problems that never cease. Not however preferring to be unclothed, that is, in death, but clothed upon with the body of resurrection, "that mortality might be swallowed up of life." This is the normal, proper desire of the believing heart. If death is necessary on the way to obtaining this, the apostle is of course perfectly agreeable to passing through death; but with the assured future object of resurrection with Christ. It is God who has wrought within believers in view of this, and He has given them His Spirit as the earnest, that is the pledge and foretaste of this blessed end. He makes precious and real to us now the living power of such future glory.
"Therefore we are always confident." Whatever may transpire on earth, it cannot change this mighty working of God. The apostles rest upon His faithfulness. If now at home in the body, they are of course absent from the Lord, who is Himself in heaven. And since walking by faith, not by sight, they are fully confident and willing to be absent from the body, and at home with the Lord. This of course is not the full objective of being clothed upon, but the prospect of even this gives them not the slightest tremor of fear, for the eternal future is certain.
Paul's zeal in verse 9 is to be "agreeable" to the Lord, that is, to fully please the One in whom he has such confidence. For fullest manifestation of everything is to be made at the judgment seat of Christ. Every individual will be manifested there. For the believer, the judgment seat of Christ will be in heaven, after the rapture: for the unbeliever it will be the Great White Throne, where men are judged according to their works. The believer "shall not come into judgment" (Jn. 5:24); but his works shall be judged, and he shall receive the things done in his body, whether good or worthless. All will be laid bare before the eyes of the Lord of glory: all that has been truly done for Him will receive a reward, all else burned up (1 Cor. 3:14,15). It is no question of law, but rather of the measure in which grace has been responded to in the life of the believer. Yet all that is worthless will be rejected, and "the terror of the Lord" is an expression not to be lightly regarded.
For the terror of the Lord is against what is contrary to His character: nothing of this can stand before His presence. Knowing this, the apostles were diligent in persuading men to no longer fight against God, but to be reconciled. As to their relation to God, it was as being now made fully manifest, not merely leaving this till the future. And they trusted that the Corinthians too would recognize this open honesty in them. Certainly they ought to have, without Paul's writing to them; but he wrote, not to defend themselves, but for the sake of the Corinthians, who were being wrongly influenced by men whose appearance was impressive, but whose hearts were not true, very likely the "false apostles" of whom he speaks in chapter 11:13. What Paul writes would certainly furnish the Corinthians with good material for answering the proud assumptions of such men, by pointing to the willing self - humiliation of the apostles, in devotion to the Person of Christ. How much more convincing a proof of apostleship than the officious ways of ambitious men!
For if it seemed the apostles were "beside themselves," that is, consumed with burning zeal, yet God was the Object of this devotion; or if on the other hand they showed a sober spirit of genuine concern, it was for the sake of the true blessing of souls, the Corinthians and others too.
As in verse 11 the knowledge of the terror of the Lord moves them deeply, so in verse 14 does the love of Christ. For love deeply desires to deliver souls from the awful terror of the Lord against the evil that has taken them captive. Christ has in infinite love "died for all;" but this does not save all. It rather proves that all are under sentence of death, and makes available to all the salvation that is obtained by receiving Christ Himself as Saviour. The fact of Christ's death therefore is only death to the unbeliever. The believer however, receiving Christ, receives the life that results from His death, in fact resurrection life.
How right then that "they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." Certainly He Himself is to be the Object of that new life which He has communicated. Self has no remaining claim whatever: death is its rightful portion. Christ alone is worthy of the entire devotion of the believer's life.
The death of Christ then has brought to an end all men according to flesh. Even though some had known Christ as Man on earth, in a body of flesh and blood, yet He can never be known in this way again. The relationship of Mary, His mother, to Him, can no longer be the same. She knows Him now in a higher, more vital relationship, which is shared by all true believers. In resurrection He is Head of a new creation, the first having been set aside by His death. On the old basis, Mary Magdalene could not touch Him, but she was to know Him as ascended to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God (Jn. 20:16,17).
"In Christ" is new creation, a contrast to being "in Adam" (1 Cor. 15:22) the head of the first creation. In new creation, "old things are passed away - all things are become new." He is not speaking of the experience of a believer, but of his new position. Some have been deeply frustrated in trying to apply this to daily experience, for manifestly our present body is still connected with Adam and the first creation, and the fleshly nature is still with us. But positionally we are now introduced permanently into this new creation by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, and this is henceforth our proper sphere of life - Christ Himself the Head, and therefore the Object to attract the heart. The circumstances into which I am introduced are those entirely new; and having a new nature as born of God, this is itself a vital connection with this blessed new creation.
"All things are of God." The first creation was corrupted by the introduction of Satan's lie and man's disobedience. But nothing can possibly mar the perfection of the new creation: nothing is conditional, as it was in the garden of Eden: all is the work of God alone, involving the complete settlement of the sin Adam introduced, and the marvellous reconciliation of those once enemies, by means of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, reconciliation "to Himself," the God of infinite grace.
And by grace too He has committed to His servants "the ministry of reconciliation." Marvellous is the reality and power of this, "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Adam was responsible for the guilt that has estranged man from God. We may say then that man was responsible to remedy this. But he could not: sin's enmity is too much for him. But God, who was not in any way responsible to do so, has in pure love and grace laid the perfect foundation of reconciliation for all the world, by the gift of His own Son. The only way by which our trespasses could be "not imputed" to us, was by means of the blessed sacrifice of Calvary, where they were imputed to Christ instead. Blessed basis for taking away man's enmity toward God! Indeed, in this we see how wrong we were in ever having been antagonistic to Him.
What a message then is that given to His servants! It is totally in contrast to that of asking something from man, but the declaring of the kindness of God in making full provision for man's reconciliation by pure grace. The apostles were in a special way "ambassadors for Christ," sent with the message of such love, the instruments through whom God Himself entreated mankind to be reconciled to Him. It would be more normal to expect that man would be earnestly entreating God to deal in mercy with him. But God rather urges man to accept now the mercy that He has so graciously proffered to all. So His love is seen, not only in the wonderful sacrifice of His own Son to bear our sins, but also in His patient grace and entreaty with men to receive His love.
In verse 21, as always everywhere, how careful is the Spirit of God to insist upon the spotless sinlessness of the nature of the Lord Jesus. Not only is it said, "Who did no sin" (1 Pet. 2:22), but "in Him is no sin" (1 Jn. 3:5), and here, "Who knew no sin." Sin is totally foreign to His nature: nothing in Him could possibly respond to its temptations. He "suffered, being tempted," the very opposite of any inclination to give way (Heb. 2:18). Yet at Calvary God made Him to be sin for us, the only sacrifice possible. The wonder and the dreadful solemnity of this will never cease to engage the adoration and affections of our hearts for eternity. And in result God's righteousness is forever displayed in the saints and in their identification with Christ, their Representative.
The message of reconciliation having been received by the Corinthians, now the Lord's servants, as fellow-workmen in unity, had further entreaty to make of them. Their profession of faith would be tested, as to whether they had received the grace of God in its living reality, or "in vain." From verses 3 to 10 we shall see that the apostles were severely tested as to the reality of their message: let those who accept the message consider this. Does grace mean as much to the Corinthians as it evidently did to these servants?
Verse 2 is a parenthesis, showing the grace of God fully available at this very time: now therefore is the time to take full advantage of it. This is the very character of this dispensation of God: it is "a time accepted," and "the day of salvation." It is only right then to fully receive its blessing, and fully respond to it.
If in chapter 4 the ministry gives boldness, in our verse 3 it also exercises the servant to give no offence in anything. Boldness is not to be harsh or rude: for men will blame the ministry if they see anything offensive in the servant.
In the apostles' conduct they showed themselves to be the ministers of God. This word for ministers is that used for household servants, and its basic meaning is "of the dust" - a good reminder for every servant!
"In much patience" or "endurance" is the basis for all that follows. A colon would no doubt be better than a comma after this word; for following this are nine tests of endurance, to 'the end of verse 5; then nine moral characteristics of endurance (vv. 6,7); then nine contrasting experiences, the sphere of endurance (vv. 8-10). How precious that patient endurance of faith that goes on steadily for the Lord, whatever the way may be! The nine tests were certainly applied to Paul in rigorous severity, yet only served to more beautifully prove him a true minister of God.
As to moral character, pureness implies no mixture of principles; knowledge is that full awareness of what one stands for, and does; long-suffering is the fruit of a faith that knows God will eventually triumph; kindness is genuine courteous treatment of others. And behind this is the living presence of the Spirit of God operative in the servant; and a resulting "love unfeigned," a genuine real concern for the good of others. "The Word of truth" is a vital matter here too, the one court of appeal as to all that is morally appropriate. And in subjection to this, the power of God is evident in the vessel. Finally, "the armour of righteousness" is found on the right hand and on the left: this is proper concern to maintain righteous moral conduct in both directions, not taken off guard by watching only on one side.
As to experiences however, honor and dishonour are seen side by side in Acts 14:13-19. At Lystra, the people first were ready to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods; and soon after stoned Paul and left him for dead. Similarly, some would give him an evil report, others good; some considered that the apostles were deceivers, others recognized them as true. As unknown, not taken account of in the world, yet well-known by many whose hearts had been opened to God. As dying, continually at death's door through persecution, yet in reality very much alive in devotion to God. Chastened, so as to be often at the point of death, yet not killed. Sorrowful, for the hardness of men's hearts toward God, and for the travail and failures of the saints of God; yet always rejoicing, for their Object was Christ. In earthly circumstances poor, yet communicating heavenly riches to many. Having nothing in the way of secure possessions in the world, but enriched with all things that are of true value, according to God's riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
The rigor of the testing, certainly felt in the soul, only moved the servants more ardently in desire for the blessing of the Corinthians: their mouth is open to minister Christ; their heart is expanded in earnest, tender concern. If the Corinthians had been restricted in their affections toward Paul, this certainly did not spring from his attitude toward them: it was their own feelings responsible for this.
Verse 13 is better rendered, "Now for an answering recompense," etc. When through suffering for their sake, the servants had shown an open mouth and expanded heart, then how right an answering response it would be for the Corinthians also to be expanded. Can we, even today, think of the devoted faith and love of the apostles through every circumstance of trial, and not have our hearts expanded in appreciation of the truth for which they willingly suffered?
The connection of all this with verse 14 must be observed. Suffering is because of being in a foreign, adverse world, a world opposed to Christ. Believers may be tempted to link with the world, to avoid such suffering, but this is unfaithfulness to Him. Contact with the world is of course unavoidable; and bearing witness of Christ is a precious privilege, but being united in a strange yoke with the ungodly is far different than this. Such a yoke should be fully avoided by the believer.
A yoke is that which identifies one with another in a binding agreement, so that it should make both in some measure responsible for the other. This is true of marriage, of business partnerships, of religious affiliations, social organizations, etc.
It is not only a yoke with unbelievers here that is prohibited, but also the mixture of the principles of righteousness and unrighteousness, light and darkness. If even a believer would yoke himself with principles of unrighteousness, then I must not identify myself with that believer. It is important that believers should not be yoked with unbelievers, and just as important that we should not allow a mixture of darkness with light, or of Satan's activity with the work of Christ. These things are so ignored by many that Christendom is greatly infested with demon activity and manifest unrighteousness. God says, "If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth" (Jer. 15:19). God's mouth gives only pure, uncontaminated words, and it should be our joy to rightly represent His words.
The temple of God is now mentioned as having no agreement with idols. The assembly, the body of Christ, is the temple of God, that in which the glory of God is manifest, where God dwells and walks. If individually Christians are to form no yoke with unbelievers or unrighteousness, then certainly in a collective way this is just as vital: the assembly is to allow no such yoke. Idolatry is simply that which displaces God from His rightful, absolute pre-eminence, as in Israel's making the golden calf. A standard is thereby raised contrary to God's one Standard, the Lord Jesus Christ, and collective
testimony is corrupted so as to be soon in ruins. God may bear long with weakness and failure; but He will not bear with such a standard that actually is a challenge to His supreme authority. It is not without serious reason that we are told, "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" (1 Pet. 3:15). His is a place absolutely holy, and separate from evil. It is on the ground of spotless holiness that He says, "I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
It is God's firm command: "Come out from among them, and be ye separate." If one has formed a yoke wrongly, then if at all possible to break it without injustice to the other party, he should do so. As to marriage, he is not at liberty to break this bond (1 Cor. 7:10); and in certain other cases the same may apply, in order that the believer may, through experience, learn the governmental results of disobedience. Compare Joshua 9:15-19. But the general rule is that of separation; and if one has put himself in a position where he cannot separate righteously, then through painful experience he may still learn what separation means in moral reality.
We are not simply told to keep from personal uncleanness, but to "touch not the unclean thing," that is, of course, not be identified with it. On this basis God receives one. We may ask, Does He not receive every soul who accepts Christ as Saviour? In one respect, yes: so far as his eternal salvation is concerned, God receives him on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ for him. But as regards the question of free and full communion, God cannot link His name with one who is himself linked with manifest evil: He cannot in this case receive even a believer in practical fellowship day by day.
To be a Father to us in practical, full enjoyment, He must have our heart's allegiance. And for us to be His sons and daughters in practical character, we must be separate from what dishonours Him. Of course, every believer is a child of God through new birth, and a son by adoption; and this is eternal: but if not true to this in practice, he cannot enjoy the blessings of such a relationship until he gives up his evil associations. Note here too the sweet comfort of relationship involved in the name "Father," and the eternal power and majesty of the name, "the Lord Almighty." What incentive for our wholehearted, unquestioning obedience!
Verse 1 is plainly connected with chapter 6. Because the saints of God have these promises, and because they are dearly beloved, they are exhorted to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. "Flesh and spirit" are not used here in the same way as in Romans 8 and Galatians 5, where the flesh is the corrupted nature of man, and the spirit is the new nature, incapable of sin. Here the flesh speaks rather of our bodily, human condition; and the spirit, of man's human spirit. Fornication is sin against one's own body, and therefore filthiness of the flesh (1 Cor. 6:18). Idolatry, or association with "doctrines of demons," that is, religious corruption, is "filthiness of the spirit," the human spirit of course. Both are contrary to our precious association with our God and Father revealed in His beloved Son. "Perfecting holiness" is the full development of the nature and quality of holiness in response to the very character of our God and Father; and this is to be in reverential fear.
"Receive us," the apostle pleads: this would be no false yoke; indeed rather one of vital blessing to them. As Samuel could call Israel itself to witness to his honourable treatment of all men (1 Sam. 12:3,4), so Paul could rightly appeal in the same way to the Corinthians: no man could accuse the apostles of wrongdoing toward any individual. Not that Paul desired to put them down: rather indeed the opposite: he desired their purest blessing. "Ye are in our hearts to die and live with you." True love desires the company of its object, and the apostles sought nothing less than the full fellowship of the Corinthians, in death and in life. Notice the order here, not to "live and die," but to "die and live." Is it not the truth of association with the death of Christ that is of first importance in uniting the hearts of saints? And it is this that leads rightly to what is real living, for we are also raised with Him.
Confidence in God gives him great boldness in addressing them, and indeed in rejoicing in them; and this was encouraged by good news of them through Titus, so that he was filled with comfort, and greatly rejoicing, though in much affliction. What evidence of his real affection for them!
Paul had come to Macedonia, not too long a distance from Corinth, but not free to go to Corinth yet, for he had apprehensions as to them: "Within were fears." And also, "Without were fightings." Pressures from both directions combined to deeply try the vessel.
But God, true to His character, had intervened in mercy, bringing Titus at last from Corinth with good news. Both the coming of Titus and the news he brought were occasions of encouragement to Paul. Titus himself had been encouraged in the visit to Corinth, for Paul's First Epistle had proved effectual in speaking to the souls of these dear saints. Their proper spiritual sentiments had been awakened, in earnest desire, in mourning, which of course involves self-judgment, and in fervent concern for Paul himself. How great a relief and joy to him!
He had feared his First Epistle might have been too severe. Little did he realize at the time that God had inspired its complete writing, and 1 Corinthians is Scripture. Precious to see in this the weakness of the vessel, and the sovereign working of God! Thankful now for such good results, Paul no longer regretted so writing: it is rather cause for his eternal thanksgiving. The Epistle had grieved them in such a way as to cause, not resentment, but repentance. It was grieving according to God, that is, seen as from God's viewpoint, therefore fruitful in blessing, rather than damaging, as Paul had feared. Such grief works repentance to salvation, never to be regretted. This is true as to salvation first, of course, but here applied to believers: their true repentance issues in salvation from the snares of self-indulgence. On the other hand, if it were only the grief of the world, no faith in God involved, the issue is death, the misery of no recovery.
This grief had wrought in the Corinthians great carefulness, or diligence, the serious exercise of desiring God's mind; and a clearing of themselves from the guilt of wicked associations. "Indignation" is added too, no doubt from the viewpoint of God's indignation against sin. And "fear" also, the realization that God's government is a most solemn matter. "Vehement desire" may seem very strong here, but evidently the First Epistle had struck them deeply, and awakened ardent affection toward the Lord. "Zeal" follows, and reminds us of the words from the lips of the Lord Jesus, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" (Jn. 2:17). Last is "revenge" or "vengeance," which would speak Of the actual judgment of the evil among them, and the putting away of the wicked man of 1 Corinthians 5. There remains no question that they had properly cleared themselves in this matter.
We have already seen that in chapter 2 Paul had urged the restoration of this now repentant offender. The judgment had been by "the many:" as an assembly they were clear, and the apostle heartily commends every godly motive in this. We may wonder as to the sharp warnings he gives them in later chapters (10 to 13); but there were "some" still whose consciences had evidently not been properly reached (ch. 10:2), and Paul feared that in his coming to them he might be required to discipline "many" (ch. 12:20,21). This would not of course be the majority, but it was a condition serious enough to call for this warning.
In verse 12 Paul does not imply that he was unconcerned about the person guilty of wrongdoing or as to any who suffered wrongly (as would be the case in those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6 as going to law); but his reason for writing the Corinthians was mainly for the sake of the assembly itself: they cared for the assembly as in the sight of God, and for its true spiritual prosperity.
So that it was sweet encouragement to find that his First Epistle had not only grieved them, but had encouraged them. The apostle therefore was encouraged in their encouragement, and found exceeding joy in the joy of Titus, because his spirit had been refreshed by the Corinthians. Now whatever boast he had made to Titus as to the commendable virtues of the Corinthians, Titus had found to be true, and Paul does not have to ashamedly retract it. And the deeper affections of Titus were drawn out toward them because of their spirit of obedience, and their receiving him "with fear and trembling." This is a precious reminder of Paul's own attitude toward the Corinthians in his first visit to them (1 Cor. 2:3). The apostle considers this therefore with the joyful assurance of his confidence in them "in all things:" for it was evident that God was working in their souls, a work always worthy of confidence.
Chapters 8 and 9 deal with the subject of proper care for poor saints on the part of the assembly. The wisdom and delicacy with which the apostle writes is both admirable and beautiful. He avoids absolutely anything like the demands of law with its system of tithing; and yet encourages every activity of grace, every motive of faith and love, so that each individual will be free to willingly and cheerfully give as directly to the Lord, and as the Lord lays upon his heart.
He first makes known to them the lovely example of the assemblies of Macedonia, their giving being in no way a legal obligation, but the fruit of the grace of God bestowed on them. While suffering a great trial of affliction, they had abundance of joy alongside of abundance of poverty; and this issued in "the riches of their liberality." Whatever the depth of their poverty, and however little they could possibly give, still their attitude of willingly giving what they could was "riches of liberality" in the sight of God. The occasion was that of a famine in Judea (Acts 11:27-30), and Gentile saints were desirous of sending help to the saints there. Philippi and Thessalonica were prominent assemblies in Macedonia, and these were willing to give more than they were able, urging the apostles to accept this for the poor saints.
Paul and his fellow-servants had doubtless made known to the saints the great need in Judea, and the Macedonians had not merely helped as the apostle hoped, but beyond this; giving their own selves to the Lord, and to them, by the will of God. Is this not a matter of laying both themselves, and therefore all they have, at the feet of the Lord and of the apostles, to be disposed of simply by the will of God? What precious and proper effect of the grace of God in souls!
Paul had desired Titus, when he came to Corinth, to encourage the Corinthians in "the same grace also." Evidently Titus had, a year previously, begun this by informing the Corinthians of the need, and they had willingly promised to help (v. 10). This being so, Paul desired Titus to "finish" in them this work. Apparently however, even at the second visit of Titus, they still procrastinated. Paul therefore appeals to the fact of their "abounding" in a general way "in everything," because of the grace of God conferred upon them; and he speaks specifically of faith, utterance, knowledge, diligence, and love to the apostles. On such a commendable basis he encourages their abounding also in the grace of sharing their means with the poor saints.
But he is careful to insist that he does not speak as commanding this: he does not want them to consider it a matter merely of obligation. The example of the Macedonians, of which he has spoken, was that of wholehearted willingness; and on the other hand there is the question of proving the sincerity of the love of the Corinthians. Paul is seeking therefore to reach and stir proper motives, not to make them merely give.
In verse 9 he reminds them of the supreme Example of sacrifice, He whose grace led Him to come from the place of infinite glory and riches, to become poor in a world of sorrow and need, not only in His life of lowly grace and kindness toward men, but in going to the utter extremity of poverty, in bearing alone the dread judgment of God against our sins at Calvary. Here was the grace that willingly gave up His own riches; and indeed gave Himself, in order that we might be enriched beyond all human imagination. No legal obligation is involved here at all, but pure, real love, the voluntary willingness to do His Father's will, for the sake of the blessing of those who deserved nothing. Can we rightly appreciate such grace as this without being moved with desire to willingly help those who are in need?
With such a background Paul gives his advice, because he is persuaded it is profitable for them: it is for their own spiritual good. Since they had begun in this matter, having a year before willingly expressed themselves in desire to give help, he tells them, "Now therefore perform the doing of it." For it would be grievously wrong to go back on their word in this. They had not been coerced, but promised willingly. So Paul is not going to allow them to forget this. It involves no question as to how much each one is to give, or how much the company is to give, but the matter of keeping their word in willingly giving. They must not allow this to die with the good intention, but act upon it.
It is to be out of what they have, not what they might hope to get in the future. A year's procrastination is certainly more than enough to warrant Paul's pressing exhortation. This delay is in striking contrast to the purpose of heart of the Philippians, who, though in circumstances of poverty, sent help to Paul twice at Thessalonica, when he was there only three Sabbath days, and this only a short time after he had left Philippi (Phil. 4:15,16).
Verse 12 certainly implies that at any time one should give according to the amount he has, not wait until such time as he thinks he has a substantial amount to give. A willing mind that gives only a little because there is little to give, is that which God accepts. The widow with her two mites teaches us a salutary lesson.
It is not that Paul wanted the Corinthians to assume a responsibility out of proportion to others, to make things hard for them in order that others might be eased. But the spirit of willingly sharing what God has given, with those in evident need, is a proper expression of unity that desires the blessing of all saints. At another time the situation might be reversed, but "at this time" the Corinthians had the wherewithal by which those in need might be relieved, and this therefore makes for equality.
Exodus 16:18 is quoted here in regard to the manna, not speaking of the prime interpretation of the verse, but giving an excellent application. The Lord had provided the manna: some gathered more, some less; but His care was the same for all, and all had sufficient with no excess. If such is the Lord's way, then if I have excess, I should be thankful to be able to share it with another who has lack. If I see others not having equality, at least let me have the heart to equalize things.
In verse 16 Paul thanks God for having put in the heart of Titus such concern for the Corinthians, that he was willing to go to them, even without having been urged by Paul. Paul's exhortation to him to go therefore was gladly received, and Titus went of his own volition. No doubt this applies to the visit of Titus of recent date, but also to his willingness to return to Corinth with this present epistle. For two other brethren (vv. 18,22) are now sent with him, and Paul is careful to give witness to the dependable character of each of them.
The first enjoyed an evident reputation of devotedness in the work of the gospel, and had been chosen by the assemblies to travel with Paul and others to Jerusalem with the gift for the poor saints. The administering of this was a sacred matter, with the glory of the Lord predominant, and with its witness to the willingness of the servants thus chosen.
No matter how faithful a reputation one had, he would not alone travel with these funds. It must be carefully avoided that there might be the least occasion given to anyone for suspicion that all might not be done in total honesty. Not only was the sight of the Lord important, but the sight of men, too.
The other brother sent was well commended for his diligence in many things, and now seen as specially diligent because of the great confidence he had in the Corinthians. He was akin to Titus in this, and well chosen. Each of these three men is evidently willing to be subjected to the scrutiny of the saints; and Paul gives his own evaluation of them for the benefit of any who might enquire. Titus is his own partner and fellow-helper in connection with the welfare of the Corinthians themselves. The two brethren had been chosen as the messengers of the assemblies, therefore approved of them, and Paul adds, "the glory of Christ." It was true that they represented the assemblies, yet above this, there was in them the sense of representing Christ in so serious a labour committed to them.
This being so, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to recognize what is plainly true, and show before the assemblies the proof Of their love, by the willing gift of their means, and fulfil Paul's boast as to them. This is a definite purpose for which these men are sent: Paul expects no more delay.
Paul does not stress the rightness of their ministering to the saints: this would be superfluous, for of this they were already persuaded, and so expressed themselves, so that Paul had boasted to the Macedonians of them. It seems the repetition here is because Paul is concerned that there be no misunderstanding by the Corinthians as to the basic principles in this matter. And he assures them that their zeal had stirred many others in the same spirit of liberality.
Paul is sending the brethren in order that the zeal of the Corinthians and the confidence of the apostles in them might not prove in vain, but that they might show themselves ready. For if some from Macedonia were to come with Paul, and find that the Corinthians were unprepared to supply what they had promised, Paul himself would be ashamed, and how much more ought they to be!
For this reason Paul had exhorted the three brethren to go beforehand to Corinth, to be sure their gift was made up and ready to be taken to Jerusalem. Again, he insists that it is a matter of bounty, or "blessing," that which is given in a thankful, happy spirit, not as being prevailed upon by the covetousness of others.
The last matter now of which he speaks, and which is so necessary to be pressed upon saints, is found in verses 6 to 15. It is the question of the lasting results of present conduct. Paul is concerned about that which is for their own eternal good. It seems the people of God need constant, pressing reminders of this, or they quickly forget. The one who sows sparingly cannot expect to reap otherwise. It is not either that the reaping will be realized only in eternity: such results are often seen in our lives too. As to sowing "bountifully," it has been observed that this specially emphasizes the liberality of the spirit shown in giving, the individual glad to give as unto the Lord. The reaping will be that of true blessing also.
And each is called upon to purpose in his own heart as to the amount he gives. If Paul presses upon them to give from a right and godly motive, willingly; yet absolutely no pressure must be used in reference to the amount given. What one can give totally ungrudgingly, let him give, not because he feels it incumbent, but rejoicingly. For God loves a cheerful giver. Indeed, this is God's own character.
Let us remember too that if we restrict our affections and our liberality, God can very easily restrict our very means of livelihood. On the other hand, if in a gracious spirit we show appreciation of His grace, He can make that grace abound toward us, giving us no lack, so that we may be able the more to abound in goodness toward others.
Ps. 112:9 is quoted in verse 9 as to the liberality of one who is in that Psalm called "a good man." It will be the character of the godly in Israel, brought into identification with their Messiah in a future day, and their hearts expanded by grace toward others. The results abide forever. And Paul desires that God, the Source of all fruitfulness, will both supply the daily needs of the Corinthians, and multiply the seed of their giving, increasing the fruits of their righteous self-sacrifice beyond what they have considered. The enrichment in everything that he desires for them is of course with the object of their free-hearted liberality, which would cause on the part of others, through the apostles, "thanksgiving to God."
For it is not only that the need of the poor saints was supplied by the administration of this provision, but also it would draw forth "many thanksgivings to God." Is this not an excellent reason for our liberality? Others would glorify God on account of this precious proof of their subjection to the truth of the gospel of Christ, in the freehearted communication of their means for the Lord's sake. So there are not only results in blessings to the giver, but results in glory being given to God. And besides, the prayers of those receiving would be drawn out more ardently for the givers, not a small consideration, for the reality of the grace of God in some draws out the affections of others.
The subject is closed now by an ascription of thanksgiving to God "for His unspeakable gift." Who can doubt that he speaks of the Lord Jesus in all that He is and all He has done? What child of God can fail to echo such thanksgiving from the depths of his heart?
Though his First Epistle had had good effect upon "the many" at Corinth, yet Paul finds it necessary, as led of the Spirit of God, to earnestly press the serious matter of God's establishing him as an apostle, and therefore of the authority of God in the ministry entrusted to him. These last four chapters being so occupied, indicates the great importance of this matter in the eyes of God. No other apostle writes in this way. And through the centuries it is Paul's ministry that has been ignored, opposed, criticized, refused by many claiming to be Christian. The Spirit of God anticipated such unbelief, and leaves no shadow of excuse for it.
How tender and gracious however is Paul's appeal in verse 1. He entreats them "by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." False apostles put on a show of power and arrogant pride, so contrary to the character of their Lord. Paul had not done so; indeed was evidently a man of no impressive physical appearance, and acted only simply and sincerely. Fleshly men would despise this as weakness. But Paul writes boldly, though kindly, for there is power here not merely natural. He had said before that to spare them he had not yet come to Corinth; and now he pleads with them that when he is eventually present with them, he may not be compelled to use bold, firm discipline against some who considered things only from a fleshly viewpoint. They had mistaken his meek and gentle character for weakness; but if they would not allow God to enlighten them in this, they might be rudely shocked when Paul came.
Not that his action would be fleshly; for though he walked in flesh, this is, in bodily condition, his warfare was not according to flesh, the mere selfish, vain principles that unregenerate man understands. Paul had higher weapons than those fleshly: they were in fact the opposite of self-assurance and pretentious pride; and yet "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." In fact, it is these very things - the haughtiness and pride of man, the determined exalting of the flesh - that God's weapons cast down. Men's imaginations, or reasonings, the rationalistic wisdom of philosophy, "and every high thing," that which man considers high, but is merely pretense, everything that seeks self-exaltation, which after all is really "against the knowledge of God;" all of this is brought to nothing by "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Moreover, God's warfare does not stop on this negative note: it is also that which can bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. Precious, wonderful weapons indeed!
But supposing such ministry of grace is resisted, and some refuse obedience? Verse 6 shows that, though patience was graciously shown in seeking a proper result, yet when time had been given in which to secure the obedience of the assembly generally, the same weapons of God would be ready to "revenge all disobedience," by the discipline of His hand toward those who resisted. God is in no way going to be defeated by the pride of man.
Did the Corinthians assume that "the outward appearance" of things was a reliable guide? Most men know better than this when considering the purchase of a used car; and many have learned to their deep regret that trusting appearances is not a safe rule in marrying a wife. Merely looking at the surface of things, a believer might say that he himself is of Christ, and therefore his opinions must be right. But let him stop and think. Paul also is "of Christ," and his opinions are opposed to those of the self-confident believer. Both cannot be right.
Moreover, as an apostle, the Lord had given him an authority that was not to be ignored, and though as to this, Paul will "boast" in pressing it, he will not be ashamed, for it is a vital matter that does not merely involve him, but their own spiritual welfare. Not that he is given authority simply to put them down, but with the object of their building up. It is this that he emphasizes. So his writing is not to terrify them, but with motives of their purest blessing.
Evidently some among the Corinthians, while admitting that Paul's letters were weighty and powerful, yet discounted this because Paul did not have an imposing personal appearance, and eloquent speech. How poor an index by which to judge! One might have such natural gifts along with extraordinary brilliance, and yet be a cunning enemy of God. It would have been far wiser to say that, though Paul was a man of humble, self-effacing character, not naturally standing out among men, yet his letters were weighty and powerful. And so the apostle reminds them that as he is by letter, so will he be in action when coming among them: it would be no matter for his looking for an admiring audience, but of his acting for God; and mere fleshly attraction would be reduced to its proper level.
Paul will not dare to link himself with those who take the attitude of comparing themselves with others. What measuring stick do they use? Nothing but one another! This is empty vanity. One will vaunt himself because he thinks he has the advantage over another in some fleshly way; and the atmosphere becomes merely that of rivalry, jealousy, arrogance. Are believers self-made individuals? Or are they not the product of the pure grace of God?
Paul refuses to boast of anything without a proper measure: it is in fact this, God's measure, that he has been throughout insisting upon: it is this that will put everything, and everyone, in proper place. God has distributed such a measure. It would remind us of "the measure of the gift of Christ," spoken of in Ephesians 4:7. This is distributed according to God's grace, not according to the strength of man's pride. Each should act simply in the measure God gives, and not pretend to go beyond.
And the apostles did not stretch themselves beyond, but were within God's measure in the labour He had given them in reaching as far as the Corinthians in preaching the Gospel of Christ. They, being the fruit of his work, could not dispute this.
If Paul boasts, he will not boast out of measure (as indeed false apostles were doing at Corinth, for they had slipped in to take advantage of Paul's labours); but consistently with the measure God had given, not taking the glory for what was actually the labour of another. And more, they had hope that, when the faith of the Corinthians was increased, these saints would heartily support the further work of the apostles in declaring the gospel in new areas beyond them; still depending upon the God of wise measure, who gives them ability for such labour, and not taking advantage of another man's line of things made ready for them. This missionary zeal of the apostle is precious indeed, so contrary to the self-satisfaction that was so infecting the Corinthians. But while Paul must in this way speak of his Cod-given labours, yet his glorying Was not in this, but "in the Lord." And this they too must take to heart. For if one commends himself today, he may find at the judgment seat of Christ that he has no such commendation.
If it seems strange that Paul asks the Corinthians to bear with a little folly in him, yet let us still remember that it is God who inspires him to write as he does. Paul considered it folly to speak of himself and of his own labours for Christ, and would certainly far rather have avoided this. But God required it in this case, and His inspiring it preserves it fully from exaggeration or undue exaltation of a man. God had called him as an apostle, and every proof is offered to fully authenticate his apostleship, and therefore the special ministry entrusted to him. It is valuable for our day, when men commonly exalt themselves, claim apostleship or something akin to this. Let this claim be measured in the light of Paul's character, labour, and sufferings; and such modern claims will collapse in utter shame.
Paul is looking for no self-exaltation, but writes with tenderest concern for God's people, jealous over them for the sake of his and their God. The truth he had given them had espoused them to one Husband: such is the character of the Church of God, the Assembly, of which Paul is specially "minister." Paul was most concerned that she should be exclusively for her Lord, a chaste virgin, unspoiled by the subtle influences of evil. And he is frank to tell them of his fear that the same subtlety of the serpent that beguiled Eve was a very real danger for them just now, ready to corrupt their minds from simplicity as to Christ. Involved arguments, subtle insinuations, covert criticisms, intellectual contradictions, are those methods Satan commonly uses; and today how many minds have been influenced and corrupted by these! Let us solemnly take to heart the fact that this is no less than unfaithfulness to our one Husband! The direct simplicity and fidelity of the faith of Ruth is a precious example for every child of God. This was that which rejoiced the heart of Boaz (Ruth 2:10-12).
In verse 4 Paul tells them that if one came to them bringing a message of true value, totally different to that which Paul had brought, preaching a completely different Jesus, by which they received a completely different spirit, then Paul could understand why they would bear with it. But this was of course not the case. The false apostles who were attempting to influence the Corinthians were simply taking advantage of Paul's message, intimating that they knew it better than did Paul, and in this way introducing their crafty corruptions. Satan has nothing new to work with. Instead he fastens on that which is the purest truth of God, and contaminates it with spurious doctrines. Certainly the Corinthians ought not to have borne with this for a moment. It was Paul who had brought them the gospel: are they to allow others now to denounce Paul, and introduce their corruptions of his message?
But Paul was not in the least behind the chiefest apostles as to the truth he was given of God. If he was a simple person in speech, yet in the knowledge of the ways of God there is no doubt that he surpassed others. And when among the Corinthians, there was an honest transparency about him they could not deny: he had been thoroughly made manifest among them; and they really had no excuse for accepting men who merely put on a show of Superiority, so contrary to the openness of faith and love.
Was it an evil thing that he had so humbled himself in lowly grace as to accept nothing from them for his support? Was it a right thing for them to despise him on this account? He writes strongly in verse 8 to awaken their proper sentiments. Other assemblies had supported him while he preached the gospel at Corinth; and it was as though he had robbed others, for their sakes. Of course, the brethren from Macedonia were wholeheartedly glad to bring temporal help to Paul; and no doubt it was because of their deeply willing devotedness that Paul received this from them, and not from Corinth. The selfish attitude in Corinth was such that Paul would give them no occasion of boasting that they were supporting him. He had been no burden to them; and he had no intention of changing this.
In the regions of Achaia, so long as this attitude remained, then it was a settled matter with Paul that he would not give up this boasting in receiving nothing from them. He is not at all secretive as to his reasons, but shows plainly they are justifiable. God knew that this was not because of any lack of love to them: indeed love was in it more than they realized. But he will continue doing as he has in order to "cut off occasion from them who desire occasion." There were those ready to accuse Paul of materially selfish motives, just as soon as he would receive anything from the Corinthians: therefore he would give them not the slightest occasion for this. If such men claimed that they themselves asked for nothing from the Corinthians, this certainly made them no better than Paul.
Now Paul deliberately, solemnly characterizes these men as "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ." It is the Spirit of God who so inspires Paul to write. It does not seem that all the assembly was influenced by these men, but some among them were; and the saints required this faithful warning. Utter wickedness can be clothed in a pious garb; and it is nothing to be marvelled at, for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light, and his servants as ministers of righteousness. Notice, these are high, pretentious claims - superior light, and assumed righteousness - but leaving out the cross of Christ, and therefore the pure grace of God: all therefore becomes a hollow and deadly sham.
Because of these deceivers, Paul must speak of himself, though in so doing he feels himself a fool. But he asks that the Corinthians will not think of him as such, for his reasons for speaking in this way are evident. Yet, if they do, still they ought to bear with his speaking for a little at least, for they had done so with false apostles! Though he speaks "not after the Lord," yet let us remember that it is the Lord who requires him so to write: but it is not the normal way for a Christian, and nothing but abnormal conditions would justify it.
Since many gloried in themselves and their accomplishments, then he would do so: then let the Corinthians judge whether these false apostles had a measure as favourable as they claimed. How did they really compare with a true apostle? He tells them they were bearing fools gladly, considering themselves wise. They bore with it if a man brought them into bondage, devoured and oppressed them, exalted himself, and insulted them. Paul had done none of this; yet in the name of religion people will accept this kind of thing, and think they are more spiritual because of their submission to it. But the flesh always despises the true liberty of grace.
"I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak." Dishonour did not mark the false apostles, as it did Paul; and his suffering of dishonour they considered weakness on his part. But let them consider again: did they count it weakness on his part that he endured such sufferings for the Lord's sake. So he speaks boldly of these things.
Verse 22 indicates that these false apostles boasted in their Jewish lineage, so this, with verse 15, would mark them as Judaizers intent on bringing souls under bondage to themselves. But as to Jewish blood, they were no different than Paul. Did they claim to be ministers of Christ? In this they did not measure up to him, though he is distressed to have to say so. "In labours more abundant." Who could say he had laboured as Paul had? Or would any of these men compare in any degree with Paul "in stripes above measure," in his imprisonments, in experiences of being brought to death's door? Indeed, today how weak and sickly is our own witness for Christ compared to that of this single-hearted, devoted servant!
He had received the lash thirty-nine times from the Jews on five occasions. (Law forbade their exceeding forty stripes, and in case of a miscount, this was commonly reduced by one (Dt. 25:3].) Three times he was beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked, a night and a day in the deep. Whether swimming or supported by boards, the trauma of such an experience would not easily be forgotten. Practically all of his journeys were imperilled how much more greatly than travel today; and as well as the perils common to others who travelled, the dangers of water travel, robbers, etc., there were those peculiar dangers because of his witness for Christ, some of these particularly from Jewish opposition and hatred, some from Gentile resentment, such as in Ephesus; and the added subtle attacks of Satan by means of false brethren. The steadfastness of Paul's endurance in the face of all these ought to have greatly impressed the Corinthians, and ourselves no less.
Added to all the dangers the apostle encountered were the many and frequent discomforts, weariness, pain, sleeplessness, hunger and thirst, cold and lack of clothing. Who would naturally welcome such an existence? But it was willingly endured for Christ. And beside all this was that which continually weighed heavily upon his heart, the care of all the assemblies. If there was weakness among the saints, he felt it as his own: if others were stumbled, his own soul was affected to its depths. This epistle bears its witness to this. Let us observe in all this however, that he is not boasting of what man would call great accomplishments: indeed it is rather in those things that serve to humble the vessel; and this he presses in verse 30. All of this shows him to be helplessly dependent upon the Living God, who proves Himself absolutely faithful in caring for His servant. How totally contrary to the assumed dignity of false apostles! But with calm, lowly sobriety he assures us that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bears witness to the truth of what he says.
Now he closes this subject with a most precious witness to God's tender grace. In these verses (32 and 33) there is nothing in which the flesh may boast, no great display of power by a mighty apostle, but his depending upon the help of disciples to let him down by a basket - God's way of preserving, yet humbling his devoted servant.
If in chapter 11 we have seen God's grace in sustaining the vessel through all adversity, Paul now speaks of the other side of this, the grace which gives unspeakable blessedness in being "caught up" above all earthly things and occupations. He speaks of this as "visions and revelations of the Lord." It is not that he is basing any Christian teaching whatever upon this experience, but rather indicating thereby that such things may be in measure known to anyone who is "in Christ." Verse 2 is rightly translated, "I know a man in Christ." It is manifestly he himself of whom Paul speaks (as verse 7 proves); and he does not write of this until fourteen years after it happened, for it did not involve anything that, as an apostle, he was bound to communicate. The experience was simply that of "a man in Christ," and written now no doubt as an encouragement to all who are "in Christ," not as a revelation to others of the will of God. But the occasion was so sublimely that of spiritual blessedness, that he was not at all conscious of whether or not his body was present with him. This is repeated in verse 3, no doubt to press home the fact that this was something above and outside of the flesh. First it is said he was caught up to the third heaven; and this is further described in verse 4 as "paradise." This is one of three times that paradise is mentioned in the New Testament, and each indicates the presence of God, the meaning being "a garden of delights." If the first heaven is that of earth's atmosphere, and the second the astronomical heaven, then the third is higher than human intellect reaches, indescribable therefore by material comparisons.
He says nothing of the wonder of the vision, no doubt because this was beyond description, just as the words he heard were impossible to communicate to others. But Paul's writing of this as he does, is an effective guard for us against accepting men's descriptions of their visions as establishing some particular teaching. If anyone could have based anything upon his vision, Paul would be the man; but while the vision was deeply precious to himself, he could not even share it with others.
He would glory in the grace that had so blessed him as a man in Christ. But of himself, as in the flesh, he would not glory, except in those infirmities that humbled the flesh. If he would desire to glory, he would not be a fool and go beyond the truth, as is the common temptation among men. Indeed, he would forbear speaking more, though true, lest others should think more of him personally than was strictly true. For thorough honesty does not desire to leave wrong impressions.
The tendency to personal pride, even in this devoted servant of the Lord, required what he calls "a thorn in the flesh" in order that he might be preserved from selfexaltation. Even the marvellous experience of being called up to heaven did not eradicate from him the flesh with its insidious evils. His "thorn" was no doubt some physical affliction. It has been remarked that the flesh in Paul might be tempted to boast that he was the only man who had ever been so caught up to heaven, yet in this case the flesh would be boasting in something it had nothing to do with; for Paul was not even conscious of his body being there. And God allowed Satan to inflict Paul with this thorn, no doubt with malicious spite on Satan on Satan's part, but with pure wisdom and love on Gods part.
Neither Paul nor his associates used the gift of healing in this matter; but three times Paul prayed beseechingly that God would remove the affliction from him. God answered, not as Paul had asked, but exceedingly abundantly above his request: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness." To have the difficulty removed would have been easier for Paul, but to have grace from God to bear it would bring more glory to God, and deeper blessing also to Paul. God's effective work is done, not by the robust health and energy of man, but by power that uses even the weakest of vessels.
Paul therefore responds, "most gladly" in willingness to rejoice even in his infirmities, for it means that the power of Christ would rest upon him. Simply believing God in this matter, he actually took pleasure in infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions and distresses which came to him for Christ's sake. For in this very weakness he was strong, not with the strength of the flesh, but of spiritual reality.
And again he speaks of what he considers the foolishness of his boasting: he had not wanted it, but they had compelled him. Instead of criticizing him, they, having been converted through him, ought to have commended him for his manifestly unexcelled apostolic character and labours.
The evidence of his apostleship had been very clear in Corinth, his humble, stedfast endurance of all adversity; and added to this "signs, wonders, and mighty deeds." God had accredited his message with such unquestionable proofs of His divine working, not by any means having the dubious character of the many Satanic or fleshly counterfeits of our day.
His work among them had produced results as clear as in other assemblies. Who would say they were inferior? If Paul's work as to them had been valueless, they might have had reason to discredit him. If they criticized him for taking no support from them, this of course did not invalidate the work of God in their own souls by the ministry of Paul, but he will add, "Forgive me this wrong," if indeed they considered it to be a wrong.
Both in verse 14 and in chapter 13:1 he speaks of being ready to come to them the third time. Actually, he had not come the second time, as he had intended: he had been only once in Corinth. But in coming to them, he will not change his practice: he will still receive no support from them; for he does not seek what they have, but themselves, that is, their true welfare according to God. And he applies to this a natural, normal principle, that of parents providing for their children, rather than the reverse. He was doing this. Of course, we must not forget the other side of the truth either, as emphasized in 1 Timothy 5:4, for if parents are in need, their children are responsible for their relief, if they have the wherewithal.
But it is no mere sense of responsibility that moves Paul: he would very gladly expend every effort to help the Corinthians, and to "be spent" in service to them, even though this unselfish love was misunderstood, and requited with resentment. Genuine love does not give up because it is not appreciated.
Verse 16 shows the way in which some of the Corinthians were accusing Paul. They suspected that, because he took no support from them, he was seeking first to secure them as his own followers, by apparent unselfishness, in order afterward to reap some material benefits from them. Those whose minds are set selfishly on material things, will always suspect others too of selfish motives. Did they not understand the true working of the Spirit of God in the Lord's servant?
So he asks them if, when he sent Titus and another brother to them, he had in any way used these brethren to gain some material profit from them. Indeed, did Titus not show the same unselfish character as Paul? Every true evidence denied the suspicions of the Corinthians. Evidently for some time they had thought that when Paul spoke in this way, it was mere excuses. But this was a callous and inconsiderate attitude. Solemnly Paul insists, "we speak before God in Christ;" and they are left no alternative but to believe him, unless of course they want to take the extreme position of considering him to be deliberately lying. But he was speaking and acting in genuine concern for their edifying.
Now he candidly expresses to them the fear that, when he comes, he may find their condition so contrary to truth that they will find him contrary to them. No doubt he writes with the earnest desire that any such thing might be previously corrected, so that he would not be given the painful duty of dealing with it. If theirs was a cynical attitude toward Paul, then it would not be surprising to find among them "debates, envying, wraths, strife's, backbiting, whisperings, swellings, tumults."
Note that, while the above mentioned evils can be strongly reproved, yet he does not speak of disciplinary action in verse 20, but in verse 21. If Paul was called upon to discipline those there who had been guilty of committing flagrant evil, and had not repented, in this he says, "My God will humble me." Whether those disciplined were humbled (as they should be), yet the responsibility of Paul's having to act, would be to him far from pleasant, but humbling. Of course, it is always the responsibility of the assembly to judge any known conduct of "uncleanness, fornication, and lasciviousness," but if in Corinth such was present, and the assembly failed to carry out proper judgment, then Paul would be required of God to insist on this when he came. How much better for the assembly to bear such a burden, and not make it the painful duty of the Lord's servant.
It is essential that Paul should repeat that this was the third time he was coming to them. Such emphasis was needed to awaken proper exercise. For the second time he had not come, in order to spare them. Nor did he desire now to cause distress there. He would use discipline only on the basis of fully competent witness; yet when this was established, he would not spare those who were guilty. He had told them as much before, and now was forewarning them as if he had actually gone there the second time: if flagrant evil was not self-judged, or judged by the assembly, then he would use the authority God had given him as an apostle: and it would mean no little humiliation for all involved.
Since the Corinthians desired some proof of Christ speaking in Paul, the proof as to them was far from weak, but "mighty in you." Verse 4 is a parenthesis, so that verse 5 continues the force of verse 3: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith." They were themselves the result of Paul's labour: if Christ was in them, how powerful a proof that Christ was speaking in Paul!
Verse 4 however is an insertion to show that power is most to be found in what appears to be weakness. If they saw in Paul what seemed to be weakness, let them remember that Christ was crucified through weakness, yet lives by the power Of God. The apostles too were willingly identified with such apparent weakness in the world's view, but with absolute certainty of eventual resurrection life by the power of God, the same power that operated in the Corinthians.
At least, if this were true of them, Jesus Christ was in them: if not they were reprobates, that is, worthless, and only fit to be rejected. They would not accept this designation! Nor would they likely go so far as to brand Paul as reprobate, and verse 6 should at least have served to alert them as to the heartlessness of their unfair criticism of him.
It was his prayer to God that they should do no evil, certainly not the attitude of a reprobate. Nor did he desire this in order that he himself would be credited with such results in them, but for their own sakes as in the sight of God: if they kept from evil, Paul would not object to being thought of as reprobate, for it was not his own reputation he sought. (Of course, if the Corinthians would practice honesty in thought as well as deed, it would be evident to them that Paul was not reprobate.)
Verse 8 emphasizes that, whatever one does, even with motives of opposition to the truth, nothing can overthrow truth, but will actually work only in such a way as to show truth to be completely triumphant. Faith as to this will put us now wholeheartedly on the side of truth.
Paul's weakness then, as dependent upon the strength of God, was a matter of gladness to him, specially if it issued in making the Corinthians strong spiritually: he wanted no ascendancy over them, but desired the strength of God to operate in them in full measure. Their perfection or mature growth was the object of his labours with them.
For this he wrote this epistle, rather than to come himself at the time, for though his letter is indeed "weighty and powerful," yet if he came, he might (for the same spiritual reason) be required to use such sharpness as would be unpleasant for him and for them, consistently with the authority the Lord had given him. Yet he always remembered that this authority was intended for edification, not for destruction.
And his last exhortation is consistent indeed with this. He first bids them to "rejoice," (not simply "farewell"): their joy was not to be diminished because correction was needed among them. "Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace." These are matters deeply precious in any assembly; and certainly their taking to heart the many reproofs of the epistle would contribute greatly to such valuable results. And this further would result in the conscious knowledge and joy of the presence with them of "the God of love and peace." It was fitting too that their affections toward one another should be expressed by "an holy kiss."
Now, sending the greetings of all the saints with whom he was, Paul closes the epistle with a peculiarly precious benediction: for in contrast to the stilted measure of blessing they were enjoying, he wishes them all the fullness of blessing that flows from the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in grace, love and communion. Can there be a question left as to how expanded and full the heart of Paul was toward them?
Leslie M. Grant