THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS
The apostle had proposed to pay the assembly at Corinth a second visit, but he had felt led to alter his plans. He writes to give the reason in this second epistle, and to prepare the way for a second visit.
The enemy, even in those early days, was seeking to corrupt the Christian profession by "false apostles", "deceitful workers", and "false brethren" (chapter 11). The apostle fears that such had been doing their deceitful work at Corinth, detaching the hearts of the saints from Christ, presenting false ministry (11:4), belittling the true servants of Christ, to draw away disciples after themselves.
In the course of his epistle, Paul warns the saints against these evils by setting forth the truth that exposes the evil. He presents Christ in the glory, the One in Whom all the promises of God are Yea and Amen. He presents the saints on earth as left here to be the epistle of Christ. He sets forth the true ministry of the Spirit, and the marks of the true servants of the Lord, by whom His work is carried out. Further, he exhorts the saints at Corinth to serve others in love by giving to the needy.
Having set before them Christ, His service, His servants, and the grace of Christ in giving to others, he exposes the false pretensions of evil men who were seeking to corrupt the assemblies of God's people by presenting themselves as angels of light and ministers of righteousness.
(Vv. 1, 2). In writing his second epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul links with himself Timothy, who was well-known to them as having laboured in their midst; and in addressing the assembly the apostle includes the saints in Achaia, of which Corinth was the capital. He is thus careful to show, on the one hand, that in all that he has to say he has the full fellowship of one to whom they are well-known and, on the other hand, that he does not view them as independent of other assemblies of the Lord's people.
(Vv. 3-6). The apostle commences his epistle with a reference to his trials. He had suffered persecution from the world, and much affliction and anguish of heart on account of the low condition that had existed among the saints at Corinth, the very people who should have been to him a source of joy (2:3,4). Nevertheless, these trials, whether coming from within or without the Christian circle, had become the occasion of his experiencing the "compassions" and "comforts" of God. So David, in his day, passed through similar experiences, for when the proud rose up against him, and violent men sought after his soul, he could say, "But Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion" and "Thou, LORD, has holpen me, and comforted me" (Psalm 136:14-17).
Paul's personal experience of the compassions and comfort of God had a threefold effect:
First, it became an occasion for praise to God, for he can say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (N.Tn). It has been truly said that God is ever the first thought with one who is walking with God. It was so in days of old with the servant of Abraham. Having experienced the manifest guidance of God, his first act was to worship the Lord, saying, "Blessed be the LORD God... I being in the way, the LORD led me" (Genesis 24:26,27). So, again, when God intervened in mercy in the trials of Daniel, his first act was to praise God, saying, "Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are His" (Daniel 2:19-23).
Secondly, the apostle's experience of the compassions and mercy of God enabled him to comfort others who were in trouble.
Thirdly, through his trials the apostle experienced the truth of the Lord's words to His own, "The disciple is not above his Master" (Luke 6:40). If the Master suffered in passing through a world of sin and sorrow, so will his disciples suffer. But if, in our little measure, we taste "the sufferings of the Christ", we shall also experience the consolations of Christ.
Thus the apostle is able to minister consolation and comfort to these saints who were enduring like sufferings. So, when writing to the Thessalonian saints, who were suffering "persecutions and tribulations", he can commit them to God, Who "hath given us everlasting consolation" to "comfort" their hearts (2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2:16,17). Later, when in prison, he can still write to the Philippian saints of "consolation in Christ" and the "comfort of love" (Philippians 2:1).
(V. 7). Thus the apostle's hope of these saints remained firm. He did not fear for them by reason of their trials. He realised that, if they had to endure sufferings, they would also enjoy consolation.
(Vv. 8-10). The apostle then refers to the severe trials through which he had passed in Asia. The pressure that came upon him was beyond human power to meet: indeed he had despaired of life. Nevertheless, he found that no trial, no opposition, which the Christian has to meet, is beyond the sustaining power of God. The apostle may despair of life, but he does not despair of God. If he is faced even with death and, like the Master, a violent death at the hands of wicked men, yet God is stronger than death. Thus in his great trials he had learned his own weakness and God's almighty power, in order that he should not trust in himself but in God Who raiseth the dead. Thus looking back he can say, God "Who delivered"; looking around he can say, God "doth deliver"; and looking on he can say, God "will yet deliver". And what Paul could say in his great trials, it is the privilege of the simplest believer to say with like trust in God.
(Vv. 11, 12). Furthermore, the apostle gladly recognises the fellowship of the Corinthian saints with him in his trials. They had laboured together in prayer for the apostle that the gift bestowed upon him might be used for the blessing of souls and thus lead to thanksgiving to God. He could with confidence count upon their prayers, for his conscience bore witness to the purity of his motives in his service. He had served in simplicity with a single eye, and with sincerity before God. His service was not the outcome of fleshly wisdom which may often do what is right from motives of human policy. It was by the grace of God that he exercised his gift.
(Vv. 13, 14). Thus, counting on their prayers and their acknowledgement of his letter, he can rejoice in them while they rejoice in him, both having in view the day of the Lord Jesus.
(Vv. 15-18). This mutual confidence leads him to explain his movements, which some might have thought were lightly changed, and thus confidence in him be weakened. He had purposed to pay them a second visit and, though he had changed his plans, it was not lightly, as if acting with the indecision of the flesh. Thus he can truly avow before God that his word to them "was not yea and nay".
(V. 19). This leads the thoughts of the apostle to Christ, the perfect pattern for all Christian conduct. Paul and his fellow-labourers preached "the Son of God, Jesus Christ". With this glorious Person there is no uncertainty, no "yea and nay" - no "it may be" or "it may not be". The truth set forth in Him, and by Him, does not change. In Him all was "yea" - sure and certain.
With his heart full of Christ, the apostle is led, in a few brief sentences, to give a beautiful presentation of Christ, the privileges of Christians, and the way God has taken in order that we may enter into our privileges.
(V. 20). First, he presents Christ as the Yea and Amen. In reading any epistle, it is important to see the special way in which Christ is presented. The Corinthian saints had been in a low moral condition, making a great deal of man and, correspondingly, forgetting what is due to God. To meet this state, the apostle, in his first epistle, proclaimed to them Christ crucified and Christ risen; for the Cross sets aside the glory of man, and the resurrection maintains the glory of God (1 Corinthians 1:17-23; 2:2; 15:4). In this second epistle, Christ is presented first, in this verse, as the Yea and Amen, and secondly, in chapter four, as glorified, in order to lead these saints into all the fulness of Christian blessing as set forth in Him, so that occupied with Him in glory they might become changed into His image.
What, then, we may ask, is the meaning of this statement concerning Christ, that "in Him is the Yea, and in Him the Amen" (N.Tn)? In the Old Testament there are promises made by God for the blessing of Abraham's seed, and for the blessing of the Gentiles through Israel. There was, however, one great difficulty that hindered the fulfilment of the blessing: over the whole scene there was the dark shadow of death. How, then, were the promises to be fulfilled? Abraham, to whom the promises were made, died; Isaac and Jacob died, as we read, "These all died in faith not having received the promises" (Hebrews 11:13). If some great benefit is promised to a man a year hence, and he dies before the time, how can the promise be fulfilled? It is plain that great promises of God are scattered over the pages of the Old Testament, but death always stands in the way of their fulfilment. But, at last, there comes One in Whom there was "no cause of death" (Acts 13:28), and though He goes into death, He could not be holden of death (Acts 2:24). Thus at last there is found a Man Who, in regard to the promises of God, is "the Yea" and "the Amen". As "the Yea" He is the One in whom the blessedness of every promise is set forth; and as "the Amen" He is the One through Whom every promise is fulfilled.
Such, then, is the presentation of Christ in this second epistle. Moreover, the way in which Christ is presented in any epistle is in keeping with the special doctrines of the epistle. In this epistle prominence is given to the great truths of the new covenant (chapter 3) and reconciliation (chapter 5). In the affairs of men, a testament, or will, sets forth the disposition of the testator towards those receiving the benefits of the will. So in the New Covenant, or New Testament, we learn what God is in His goodness for man. Reconciliation sets forth what man is for God. Indeed, it sets forth what everything will be for God; for not only men are to be reconciled, but "all things", whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. Looking on to a scene beyond death, there rises up before our vision a vast universe of bliss, in which every person and everything will be fully in accord with God, and therefore a scene in which God can rest with perfect complacency. The way in which Christ is presented in the epistle perfectly corresponds with these great truths, for in Christ we see perfectly set forth God's disposition toward men; and in Christ we see perfectly set forth all that God would have us to be for Himself, moreover, through Christ we know that all the desires of the heart of God will be fulfilled.
Further, the apostle touches upon the immense privileges of the Christian. If all the promises are set forth and fulfilled in Christ to the glory of God, it means that these promises are secured for believers "unto the glory of God by us". Thus, in the course of the epistle, the apostle presses our testimony in the world as the epistles of Christ. The glory of God implies the display of God in His nature. We can easily understand that all the glory of God is set forth in Christ but the marvel of grace is that it is God's purpose that His glory should be displayed "by us": that those who once set forth the terrible effects of sin should be taken up to set forth the glory of God. Moreover, this setting forth of the glory of God in the saints is not simply future, but even now in this world. It is evident, when the apostle speaks a little later (chapter 3) of being changed from glory to glory, that he has the present in view. We know that the purpose of God will have its complete fulfilment in the church of glory, for the first mark of the Holy City, when it descends from heaven, is that it has "the glory of God". But it is also God's purpose that, as believers pass through this world, in which they had once been the servants of sin bringing forth fruits of unrighteousness, they should become the servants of God to set forth the glory of God.
(Vv. 21, 22). In the verses that follow, we see the way that God works in order that His glory might be displayed in us. To this end He has established us in Christ, anointed us, sealed us, and given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
First, God establishes us in Christ. There is a work of God in the inner man to the end that Christ may dwell in the heart by faith. We recognise the need of energy in the things of God and zeal in His service, but, above all, we need the secret of energy - a heart that is attached to Christ.
Secondly, having our hearts attached to Christ, we are led into the knowledge of divine truth, and divine Persons by the anointing of the Spirit. The anointing speaks of divine intelligence given by the Holy Spirit, as we know from the writings of John, where we read, "Ye have an unction (or 'anointing') from the Holy One, and ye know all things". Again we read, "The same anointing teacheth you of all things". In divine things affection comes before intelligence. This is seen in the apostle's prayer in Ephesians 3, where he first prays that Christ may dwell in our hearts, and that we may be rooted and grounded in love. This answers to God establishing us in Christ. Then it follows in the prayer, "That ye may be able to comprehend ". This comprehension is the effect of the anointing, by which it is possible for the believer to enter into the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, of all the counsels of God.
Thirdly, we are reminded in this passage that believers are sealed by God. The seal, as it has often been expressed, is the mark that God puts upon the believer as the evidence that we are His. The world cannot see the Holy Spirit, but they can see in the changed life of the believer the effect of the Spirit's indwelling. It was so in the case of the Thessalonian believers. They received the word in much tribulation and with joy of the Holy Spirit; and in result they became followers of the Lord and ensamples to all that believe, and their faith to God was spread abroad, This was the result of being sealed, and the evidence that they belonged to God.
Fourthly, believers enjoy the earnest of the Spirit, by which they are enabled to get a foretaste of the blessedness of the vast inheritance of glory which is theirs already and into which they will soon be ushered (Ephesians 1:13,14).
Thus we learn that God "establishes us"; "has anointed us"; "sealed us"; and given us "the earnest of the Spirit". In being established we look back to the Cross to learn all the love of Christ; by the anointing we look upon Christ in the glory, to be made intelligent in all the divine counsels; by the sealing we become witnesses to Christ in the world around, thus setting forth that we belong to God; and by the earnest we look on to the inheritance when we shall be with Christ and like Christ.
(Vv. 23, 24). In the two closing verses the apostle explains that, if he had not visited Corinth a second time, it was in order to spare them further grief. He had no desire to take the place of one that ruled over the faith of the saints, but rather to view himself and other believers as "fellow-workmen" (N.Tn) in the joy of the Lord's service. It is "by faith" in the Lord we stand, not faith in one another.
(Vv. 1-3). Continuing the subject of the closing verses of chapter 1, the apostle expresses the fear that, had he visited them a second time before having heard the effect of his first letter, it would only have been to cause them grief. Normally we should expect to find joy from the saints, and especially from those to whom we may have been a spiritual blessing, as in the case of the apostle and the Corinthians. He therefore writes this second epistle in order that all that might raise a cloud between himself and these believers might be removed.
(V. 4). It was indeed with real anguish and distress of heart that he had written his first epistle - a letter watered with many tears. If he had to deal with sin in their midst, it was not in any cold, legal spirit that might have exposed the wrong, pointed out the right course to take in dealing with it, and there left the matter. The fact that he had not come to them might lead to this wrong conclusion, but he writes to assure them that behind his first letter there was "much affliction and anguish of heart", and behind his grief there was deep love for them.
(Vv. 5-8). Moreover, this spirit of love that had animated the apostle in writing his first letter he would have the assembly at Corinth show towards the wrong-doer with whom they had dealt in obedience to the apostolic directions. In their zeal in dealing with the evil, let them not overlook love and grace to the wrong-doer who had given evidence of true repentance.
(Vv. 9, 10). To this end Paul had written this second epistle - to assure them of his love and to awaken their love. The first epistle had, indeed, put them to the test to prove their love by their obedience to the apostle's directions. (Compare John 14:21 ; 15:10.) As they had proved their love by obedience, confidence in them had been restored, so that he can say, "To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also". In this way they were acting on behalf of the apostle, even as he, in forgiving any wrong committed against him, represented Christ, thus carrying out his own exhortation, in another epistle, "Forgiving one another... even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Colossians 3:13).
(V. 11). Thus cultivating a spirit of holy love in his own heart and the hearts of others, the apostle would frustrate the efforts of Satan to sow discord among the saints, not simply by introducing evil amongst them, but by leading them to deal with it in a wrong manner and a wrong spirit. How often the saints may be of one mind as to the evil, and yet discord arise through their not agreeing as to the manner of dealing with it. How important to be on our watch against the devices of the enemy lest he get an advantage over us.
(Vv. 12,13). At Troas, where the Lord had opened a door for him to preach the gospel, the apostle had hoped to find Titus bringing him encouraging news of the Corinthians. But not finding him, he had no rest in his spirit; so bidding them adieu, he went on to Macedonia. There, as we know from 7:5-7, he found Titus, who comforted him with the account of the good effect of his first letter.
(V. 14). The comfort he had received leads the apostle to break forth in praise, "Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in the Christ". If God leads, it will be in triumph - triumph over the failure of the saints, the opposition of sinners, the devices of the enemy, and the pressure of circumstances. But it will be triumph "in Christ". It is not triumph in the flesh or by human ability or power. Further, in the measure in which difficulties and distresses, of whatever character, are triumphed over in and through Christ, the sweetness and blessedness of the knowledge of Christ will be made manifest in every place.
(Vv. 15,16). Thus it is possible to present Christ to the saved and the unsaved. This means, however, to those who reject Christ, death with the anticipation of a worse death; but to those who accept the testimony, life with the anticipation of the fulness of life. But with such mighty issues, as life and death, hanging upon the testimony of Christ, the apostle may well ask, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
(V. 17). Paul realised the greatness of the Person that he preached, the deep need of those to whom he preached, and the immensity of the issues involved. He did not, as many even in that day - and how many in this day "make a trade of the word of God" (N.Tn). The man who has such low thoughts of the word of God as to use it as a means of trade - preaching for a living - will have very little sense of the greatness of the word, the solemnity of the issues involved, or his own insufficiency. He will be in danger of thinking, to his own undoing, that human education, natural ability, and intellectual attainments, will give competency to carry on the work of God. But natural ability and all that comes from man will only give competency in the sight of men. It can neither give sincerity nor competency in the sight of God. The apostle's competency was "of God", and he preached not as a man-pleaser before men, but in sincerity "before God"; and not in the flesh, but "in Christ".
In the apostle's day we see the commencement of two great evils in the Christian profession. First, there were those of whom he speaks as "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ" (11;13). Secondly, as the result, the word of God was being corrupted (2:17). Corrupt ministers led to the corruption of the ministry. That of which we see the commencement in the apostle's day has been fully developed in our day. To meet these two evils the apostle sets before us in chapter 3, the true ministry and its results, and in chapters 4 and 5 the true minister and his marks. Having thus God's standard, we are able to judge of the solemn departure in the Christian profession, while at the same time examining ourselves as to how far we answer to God's thoughts.
First, then, his great aim in chapter 3 is to show that the Christian company is the epistle of Christ, how it becomes such through the ministry of the gospel, and how the writing is maintained in legibility so that all men should be able to read Christ in His people.
(V. 1). Before speaking on this great theme, Paul is careful to show that he does not do so from any selfish motive. False teachers had challenged his apostleship; false teaching had obscured the ministry. This compelled him to defend true ministry and true ministers; but, if he does so, it is not to commend himself, or as seeking the commendation of the Corinthians, or as needing to be commended to them.
(V. 2). To dispel such a thought, in the most delicate way, he turns to the Corinthians and says, as it were, "If we wanted to commend ourselves, we should not talk about our ministry or ourselves, we should talk about you".
"Ye", he says, "are our epistle". They had such a real place in his affections that if anyone challenged his apostleship he was ever ready to point all men to the Corinthian assembly as those who commended both himself and his ministry.
(V. 3). But how was it that the Corinthian assembly commended Paul? Was it not in so far as they were the living expression of the character of Christ whom Paul had preached? They were in their practical lives a letter in favour of the apostle, because they were a letter that commended Christ to all men.
Paul preached Christ to the Corinthians. The Spirit of God used the ministry to make Christ precious to these Corinthian believers - He wrote Christ on their hearts. The Christ written on their hearts became livingly expressed in their lives. Christ being expressed in their lives, they became witnesses to Christ - a letter, as it were, known and read of all men. Commending Christ, they became a letter to commend Paul, the chosen vessel through whom they had heard of Christ.
Here, then, we have a beautiful description of the true Christian company, composed of individual believers upon whose hearts Christ has been written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tables of stone, but on the fleshy tables of the heart. As men of old could read the ten commandments on tables of stone, so now they are to read Christ in believers. The law, however, written on unresponsive tables of stone, forms a witness of what men ought to be, but leaves the heart untouched. By the ministry of the gospel, the Spirit of the living God writes Christ upon the hearts of living men as a witness to all that Christ is.
It is sometimes said by Christians, "We ought to be epistles of Christ". The apostle, however, says, not "Ye ought to be", but "Ye are... the epistle of Christ".
Then, he can add, seeing the Corinthian assembly had been restored to a right condition, "Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ". The apostle thus distinguishes between being the epistle of Christ and being manifested as such, known and read of all men. Entertaining the wrong thought that we ought to be the epistle of Christ, we shall set to work in the endeavour to become such by our own efforts. This would not only lead us into legal occupation with ourselves, but would also shut out the work of the Spirit of the living God.
The fact is that we become the epistle of Christ, not by our own efforts, but by the Spirit of God writing Christ upon our hearts. If we are not epistles of Christ, we are not Christians at all. A Christian is one to whom Christ has become precious by a work of the Spirit of God in the heart. It is not simply a knowledge of Christ in the head, which an unconverted man may have, that constitutes a man a Christian, but Christ written on the heart. As sinners we discover our need of Christ, and are burdened with our sins. We find relief by discovering that Christ by His propitiatory work has died for our sins, and that God has accepted the work and seated Christ in the glory. Our affections are drawn out to the One through Whom we have been blessed: He becomes precious to us. Thus Christ is written on our hearts.
Our responsibility is not to seek to walk well in order to become an epistle, but, seeing we are the epistle of Christ, to walk well in order that it may be read of all men. It is obvious that if any one writes a letter it is with the express purpose that it be read. If the letter is a letter of commendation, it is to commend the person named in the letter. So when the Spirit of God writes Christ on the hearts of believers, it is in order that they may together become an epistle of commendation, to commend Christ to the world around; that by their holy and separate walk, their mutual love to one another, their lowliness and meekness, their gentleness and grace, they may set forth the lovely character of Christ.
Let us notice that the apostle does not say that they are "epistles" of Christ, but that they are the "epistle" of Christ. He views the whole company of the saints as setting forth the character of Christ. We may rightly be very exercised as to our individual walk, and yet be careless or indifferent to the condition of an assembly.
Thus it was with the Corinthian saints. They had, indeed, been walking in a disorderly way; but, as the result of the apostle's first letter, they had cleared themselves from evil, so that he can not only say that as an assembly they were an epistle of Christ, but that they were an epistle "known and read of all men".
Alas! the writing may become indistinct, but it does not cease to be a letter because it is blotted and blurred. Christians are often like the writing on some ancient tombstone. There are faint indications of some inscription; a capital letter here and there would indicate that some name was once written on the stone; but it is so weather-worn and dirt-begrimed that it is hardly possible to decipher the writing. So, alas, may it be with ourselves. When first the Spirit writes Christ upon the heart, the affections are warm and the life speaks plainly of Christ. The writing being fresh and clear is known and read of all men; but, as time passes, the world is apt to slip into the heart and Christ fades out of the life. The writing begins to grow indistinct until at last men see so much of the world and the flesh that they see little, if indeed anything, of Christ in the life.
Nevertheless, in spite of all our failures, Christians are the epistle of Christ, and it ever remains God's great intention that men should learn the character of Christ in the lives of His people. Just as in the tables of stone of old, men could read what the righteousness of God demands from men under law; so now, in the lives of God's people, the world should read what the love of God brings to man under grace.
(V. 4). The effect of his preaching, so happily set forth in the changed lives of the Corinthians, effected by the Spirit, leads the apostle to speak of his confidence as to his ministry. He was confident that, by the grace of God given to him through Christ, his ministry was the truth that the Spirit could use to give life.
(Vv. 5, 6). At the same time he is careful to disclaim any intrinsic competency in himself. He was entirely dependent upon God for the grace that enabled him to proclaim the truth. His competency was of God, Who had made the apostles competent ministers of the new covenant.
The new covenant is brought before us by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:31-34). The two great blessings of the new covenant are forgiveness of sins and the knowledge of God. These blessings, as with all others, come to man on the ground of the blood of Christ; so the Lord can say, when instituting the Supper, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood".
The truth that the saints are an epistle written on the heart, in contrast with the writing of the law on tables of stone, naturally leads the apostle to refer to the new covenant, for in the new covenant the writing is also on the heart, as we read, "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts". But though he speaks of himself as a minister of the new covenant, he is careful to add, "not of the letter, but of the spirit". He is writing to Gentiles, and for such the letter of the new covenant would only "kill" or, in other words, exclude them from all blessing; for actually, as far as the letter is concerned, the new covenant applies only to the house of Israel and Judah. The spirit of the new covenant, or the blessing that is in the mind of God of which the covenant speaks, is for all men, according to the Lord's commission to His disciples that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations" (Luke 24:4 7).
Then, changing from the spirit of the new covenant to the Holy Spirit, the apostle says, "The Spirit giveth life". The Holy Spirit gives life by a work in souls, whereby they are brought to a knowledge of the Lord and the remission of their sins (Hebrews 8:10-12).
(Vv. 7-11). From this point in the chapter the apostle, in a long parenthesis (verses 7 to 16) draws a contrast between the old covenant and the new. This was very necessary because, as we have seen from the closing verse of the preceding chapter, there were false teachers who were corrupting the Word of God, with the result that the saints were in danger of being led off the ground of grace into a mixture of law and grace. The apostle will show in the end of the chapter that we can only be kept in our souls consciously on the ground of grace by having our eye fixed on Christ in the glory, the One through Whom all the grace of God flows to us.
First, however, he speaks of the character of the old covenant, and its effect upon those who come under it. First, the law is a ministry of condemnation and of death. We must remember that the law is "holy and just and good". It was a divinely given rule for men's conduct upon the earth, and not a means to point the way to heaven. But it applied to a man that is a sinner, with the result that it proved that he was committing sins by forbidding the very things he was doing. Moreover, it proved the existence of an evil nature that desires to do the very thing that is forbidden. While nine of the commandments refer to outward conduct, the remaining one applies to the inward disposition, for it says, "Thou shalt not lust". A man may be outwardly blameless in conduct, but the application of this law to his inward thoughts will prove that he has lusted and therefore broken the law.
The law, then, convicts of actual sins, and proves the existence of an evil nature. It thus becomes a ministration of condemnation, and the condemnation is death. The holy law of God applied to a man that is already a sinner must become to him a ministry of condemnation and death.
Secondly, the law was written and engraven on stones. The law wrote nothing on the hearts of men. It did not directly tell men what they were, but rather what they ought to be, both in their hearts and their outward conduct; it did not touch their hearts. It told men what their lives should be, but did not give them life or strength or a new nature. The writing on stones is a perfect witness to what I ought to be as a child of Adam, both in my relations to God and to my neighbour. If, however, it is a witness to me, it is also a witness against me, for it proves that I am not what I ought to be. The writing on stones says, "Do this and live". But I know that I have not kept the law; therefore the law engraven on stones becomes to me a ministry of death.
Thirdly, the law passes away. The apostle speaks of the law as that which is "to be done away". It has to give place to that which abides. It came in by the way until the Seed should come. It proved the complete ruin of man and thus paved the way for God to manifest His grace. Man being fully exposed, the law has done its work and gives place to the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, the law is introduced with glory. To understand the statement that the old covenant "began with glory", we must remember that glory is the display of God. The glory of God declares who God is. Also we have to bear in mind that the law was given on two occasions, and that the apostle refers to the second giving of the law. On the first occasion Moses came down from the mount with the tables of stone in his hand, but no glory in his face (Exodus 32:15). It was pure law that made demands upon man, unaccompanied by any revelation of the glory of God in mercy on behalf of man. As Moses draws nigh to the camp, he finds the people fallen into idolatry and thus have broken the first commandment. To bring pure law into the midst of such a company would have overwhelmed them with instant judgment. Moses, therefore, "cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them". He goes into their midst without the two tables. Pure law never came into the camp at all.
Thereupon, Moses goes up into the mount a second time and pleads with God on behalf of the people. To this plea God answers in grace, and gives a partial revelation of Himself in His goodness and grace and mercy. This is a glimpse of His glory: not the law demanding what man should be, but the glory revealing what God is. So "the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6,7). Evidently this is not pure law; neither is it pure grace - the sovereign grace of God revealed in Christ. It is rather the goodness of God in government, under which it is said that God will by no means clear the guilty, whereas, under grace, God can justify the ungodly.
The effect of this partial display of glory was that when Moses came down from the mount the second time his face shone (Exodus 34:29-35). Even so, the people could not endure the reflection of this partial display of the glory of God in the face of Moses. They could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance. No man can stand a revelation of God, however partial, if accompanied with the law. Under such circumstances, as it has been said, "You will either seek to hide from God, as Adam did in the garden of Eden, or you will seek to hide God from you, as Israel did when they entreated that Moses should put a veil upon his face" (JND).
It is thus proved that we cannot stand the slightest testimony to the glory of God in His holiness, grace, and goodness, if accompanied with a demand that we must, by our own efforts, answer to the glory. Nay, the more the glory of God is revealed, when accompanied with the demand that we must answer to it, the more impossible it is for us to endure the glory.
Having shown the character and effect of the law, the apostle presents in contrast the ministry of grace. He speaks of this ministry as "the ministry of the spirit", "the ministry of righteousness", the ministry that remains, and lastly as the ministry that not only exceeds in glory but that subsists in glory (verses 8-11, N.Tn).
The ministry of the Spirit. The law was "the writing of God graven upon the tables" of stone (Exodus 32:16); the gospel is a ministry of the Spirit of God, by which Christ is written on the heart. Moreover, the existence, commencement, and continuance of this ministry of the Spirit, depends upon the glory of Christ. The glory in which Christ is seated is the witness of God's infinite satisfaction in Christ and His work. So fully is God satisfied that there is now a Man in the glory - One wholly suited to the full revelation of God. The coming of the Spirit is the answer to His glory. As Christ is in the glory, the Holy Spirit can come and work in the hearts of sinners, revealing to them all that God is as declared in the face of Jesus.
The ministry of righteousness. Further, we learn that the gospel of the glory of Christ is "the ministry of righteousness". The law was a ministry of condemnation because it demanded righteousness from the sinner, and condemned him for his unrighteousness. The gospel, instead of demanding righteousness from the sinner, proclaims the righteousness of God to the sinner. It tells us that Christ has died as the propitiation for our sins, and that God has shown His complete satisfaction with what Christ has done by righteously seating Him in the glory; and that now, through Christ, God is righteously proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to a world of sinners and, further, can righteously pronounce the sinner that believes in Jesus justified from all things (Romans 3:24,26). Thus the gospel of the glory of Christ not only tells us of the love and grace of God, but declares the righteousness of God.
The ministry that remains. In contrast with the law, the ministry of grace is that which abides. The law came in by the way to expose man; it was only to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. Christ having come, we have One Who can never pass away, nor His glory grow dim, nor His work lose its efficacy. Therefore all the blessings of the gospel of the glory that depend upon the glory of Christ must be as lasting as Christ Himself.
The ministry that subsists in glory. The law that is done away was introduced with a glimpse of glory: that which abides not only exceeds in glory but subsists in glory; it depends for its existence upon the full revelation of the glory of God in Christ. Now that the glory of God has been fully met by Christ and His work, the glory of God can be fully revealed in the gospel of the glory.
(Vv. 12,13). Seeing, then, the blessedness of the ministry of the gospel that gives us an abiding place in glory, we can use great plainness of speech. We have not, like Moses, to put a veil over the glory. The glory of God in His holiness and love can be fully declared, seeing it is displayed in the face of Jesus, the One Who died to put away all that is contrary to the glory. The glory in the face of Moses was veiled, with the result that Israel could neither see the measure of glory displayed in the law, nor Christ "the end" to which the law pointed.
(Vv. 14-16). Israel's thoughts have been darkened; and remain so to this day. When they read the law, they cannot see the One to Whom the law points because of the unbelief in their hearts. The veil that was upon the face of Moses is now upon the hearts of Israel. When at last Israel turns to the Lord, the veil will be taken away. So with ourselves; only as we turn to the Lord shall we find the blindness and darkness of our hearts pass away.
(Vv. 17,18). The parenthesis of verses 7 to 16 being closed, the apostle continues the subject of verse 6. There he had been speaking of the spirit of the new covenant, which is for all, in contrast with the letter which limits the new covenant to Israel.
Continuing this theme, the apostle now says, "The Lord is the Spirit". Probably, as scholars have pointed out, the word Spirit in this clause should have a small letter instead of a capital. The capital makes the word refer to the Holy Spirit, and this hardly seems to be intelligible. (See W. Kelly on Corinthians.) The meaning would appear to be that the Lord Jesus is the spirit, or essence, of the old covenant. All its forms, sacrifices and ceremonies prefigured Christ in different ways. The law had a shadow of good things to come, but Christ is the substance (Hebrews 10:1; Colossians 2:17). Unbelief fails to see Christ in all the Scriptures, but faith apprehends the Lord in every part of the Word, and never more plainly than in the tabernacle, its sacrifices and services.
The apostle then passes from speaking of the Lord as being the spirit, as giving "true inner bearing of what was communicated", to speak of the Spirit of the Lord. Here, without question, the capital is rightly used, for all will agree that this is the Holy Spirit. The apostle states that "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty". Those referred to in 2:17 would bring the saints into bondage by occupation with themselves: the Spirit brings into liberty by turning the soul to Christ in the glory. Such are not afraid of the glory of the Lord. They can view the glory seen in the face of Jesus without a veil, for the One in Whose face the glory shines has met the claims of glory.
Moreover, there is a transforming power in beholding the Lord in glory, and this transforming power is available for all believers - the youngest as well as the oldest. "We all" - not simply "we apostles" - "beholding . the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image." This change is not effected by our own efforts, nor by wearying ourselves in the endeavour to be like the Lord. Nor is it by seeking to imitate some devoted saint: it is by beholding the glory of the Lord. There is no veil on His face, and as we behold Him, not only every veil of darkness will pass from our hearts, but morally we shall become increasingly like Him, changing from glory to glory.
Thus the Holy Spirit not only writes Christ on the heart so that we become epistles of Christ, but, by engaging our hearts with Christ in glory, He transforms us into His image and so keeps the writing clear. We are thus not only epistles of Christ, but we become epistles that are known and read of all men.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit does not occupy us with our own shining for Christ. Moses had a glimpse of the glory of God and immediately his face shone; but we read, "Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone" (Exodus 34:29). He was not occupied with his shining face, but with the glory of God. The glory is in Christ, and only as we are occupied with Him shall we reflect a little of His glory.
In chapters 4 and 5 the apostle passes from the ministry of the gospel to speak of the ministers or servants of Christ. This was necessary seeing that not only had there arisen many in the Christian circle who were corrupting the Word of God, but there were also those who assailed the servants of God, seeking occasion against them, and charging them with walking according to the flesh. Such were deceitful workers transforming themselves into apostles of Christ (10:2,3; 11:12,13). In contrast with these deceitful workers, the apostle, in these chapters, sets before us the marks of the true servants of God.
(V. 1). Having the ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness, founded upon Christ in the glory, and having received mercy to make it known in the face of every opposition, the apostle can say, "We faint not". Looking upon the Lord, Peter could walk upon the water however rough; with his eye upon the water however smooth, he would begin to sink. So too the apostle, with his eye upon Christ in the glory and beholding the glory of the Lord, can say, "We faint not".
(V. 2). Moreover, the apostle's life was consistent with his ministry. He did not allow in his life any of the hidden things of shame, while preaching a gospel that denounced them. He did not walk in deceit as some of whom he speaks a little later as "deceitful workers". He did not seek to serve his own ends or exalt himself while taking the place of a servant of the Lord.
Nor did he falsify the Word of God. He made no attempt to bend the Word of God to meet man's theories, nor tone it down to spare the flesh. He did not hide its plainest statements, whether exposing the utter ruin and condemnation of man or the fulness of the grace of God.
Men could find no excuse for refusing the gospel that Paul preached because of anything in his life that would offend the conscience, because of any base motive in preaching, or because he kept back or perverted the truth. Alas! with the Corinthian saints it had been far otherwise. As the first epistle shows, they had allowed many of the hidden things of shame. The party work amongst them had led to a walk in deceit. Some, too, had falsified the Word of God, denying even the resurrection. They had walked and handled the Word of God in a way that would shock the natural conscience. The true servants of God commended themselves to the consciences of men, so that it would have to be admitted that they were acting rightly in the sight of God. Men were not prepared to follow the Lord; but they had to admit that they found no fault in Him.
(Vv. 3, 4). Seeing that the apostle's life was consistent with his preaching, and that the gospel that he preached was a full, uncorrupted presentation of the Word of God, he can say, "If also our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in those that are lost" (N.Tn). With Paul there was no veil - nothing to obscure the testimony - either in the preaching or the preacher. He gave out the truth as purely as he had received it. If under such ministry the gospel was rejected, it was because there was a veil of unbelief on the hearts of the hearers. Satan, the god of this world, used the unbelief of men to blind their minds against the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. For such the result was fatal; it left them in their lost condition. As one has said, "It is not simply that Satan obscures it to them, but it is their own unbelief which brings them under the power of Satan".
With ourselves there may be inconsistencies in our lives that detract from the gospel preached; and the gospel we preach may be mixed with imperfection, so that we could not definitely say of any that hear and go away unsaved that they have actually refused the gospel. There is a great difference between hearing and refusing. A hearer of the gospel may come and hear it again and be saved.
Moreover, the gospel that Paul preached was not only that Christ had died and was risen, but that He is glorified - "the glad tidings of the glory of the Christ". It is not only that Christ is in glory, but that the One Who fully set forth God is glorified, the everlasting witness to God's infinite satisfaction in Christ and His work, as well as to the believer's place of acceptance and favour, and the righteous ground of the proclamation of forgiveness and salvation to sinners.
(V. 5). Having presented the manner of the preaching and the gospel he preached, the apostle can truly say, "We preach not ourselves". When the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ shone into his heart, he learnt his own nothingness. He discovered that, in spite of all his boasted privileges under law, he was lost, and in spite of all his enmity to Christ and His own, by grace he was saved. After this he could not speak of himself, but only of Christ Jesus the Lord, and he himself the servant. The once proud Pharisee becomes, for Jesus' sake, the servant to those whom he had once persecuted.
This service might indeed involve suffering of every kind, and lead to his being misunderstood, and at times neglected or even opposed by the saints themselves, yet for Jesus' sake he endured all. Personal interest, temporal gain, self-exaltation and the applause of men, are all lost sight of in the joy of serving for Christ's sake. How truly he could say, "We preach not ourselves".
(V. 6). This great change had been brought about by the operation of God in the heart of the apostle, whereby the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus had shone into his dark soul, even as by the Word of God the physical light had dispelled the darkness when God formed the earth for man. Moreover, the inshining of the light in the heart of the apostle was not only for his own blessing, but also for "the shining forth" to others of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
(Vv. 7-9). In the verses that follow, the apostle speaks of the vessel that God uses in His service. Angels are servants, but they are passed by. We learn that God has chosen for His service men with bodies liable to suffering, decay, and death. The treasure is thus placed in earthen vessels. Men often put their treasures into a very costly casket; and at times the casket eclipses the jewel. God puts His treasure into a perishing, fragile vessel of clay. He thus makes everything of the treasure on the one hand, and the surpassingness of His power on the other. How perfect in wisdom are all God's ways! Had God put this treasure into the glorious angels that excel in strength, would not man have been arrested by the glory of the vessel rather than the glory of the treasure?
And what scope would there have been for the display of the power of God on a spiritual being that excels in strength? It might indeed be thought that the earthen vessel would be a hindrance to the shining forth of the light. But the very weakness of the vessel only becomes the occasion to make manifest the surpassingness of the power of God. If the light shines from a poor weak man, it is evident that the power is of God. If two unlearned and ignorant fishermen can make a lame man perfectly whole, and so preach that five thousand men are converted, in the face of all the opposition of the religious leaders and social rulers of this world, it is evident that they are sustained by some surpassing power - a power that is greater than all the power arrayed against them. This power is the mighty power of God present with His people by the Holy Spirit.
The earthen vessel, with the light shining forth, seems to be an allusion to Gideon and his three hundred followers. They were to take "empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers". Then, at the right moment, they sounded their trumpets, they broke their pitchers, and the light shone forth (Judges 7:16-20). The empty vessel in which the light was set was, in one sense, a hindrance to the shining forth of the light. So the vessel had to be broken. In this chapter we are allowed to see the distressing circumstances that are allowed to come upon the outward man, to show that, if the outward man perishes, it is in order that the power of God may be manifest and the light shine forth.
Had an angel been sent on this service, he could not have been troubled or perplexed or persecuted, for he would have no body that could be affected by circumstances. A testimony rendered by an angel would have been a testimony rendered by one with irresistible power as, indeed, it will be in the days yet to come, of which we read in the Revelation. A testimony rendered by a man with a frail body is a testimony rendered in circumstances of weakness. Nevertheless, the very weakness only demonstrates the surpassing greatness of the power of God.
Paul was troubled on every side; this was the earthen vessel. Though troubled, he was not distressed; this was the power of God. He was perplexed - the earthen vessel; but his way was not entirely shut up - the power of God. He was persecuted - the earthen vessel; but not forsaken - the power of God. He was cast down - the earthen vessel; but not destroyed - the power of God.
(Vv. 10-12). In all these afflictions he was bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest. It is well to notice that the apostle does not say the death of Jesus. The death of Christ has indeed set the believer beyond the power of death and judgment in an entirely new place before God in Christ. Here, however, the apostle speaks, not of the death of Jesus as making atonement before God, but of the dying of Jesus as the holy Martyr suffering at the hands of men. When dying on the Cross, He was the object of reproach and scorn of men - the One upon Whom they heaped every insult and indignity. We cannot share in the atoning sufferings of His death under the hand of God, but we can share in our measure in the martyr sufferings when dying at the hands of men.
Bearing such a faithful witness to Christ, Paul had to meet in measure what the Lord met in fulness when dying. Paul's body was constantly subjected to suffering and insults, and in this way he bore about in his body what the Lord had to bear when dying, with the blessed result that the perfect life of Jesus was manifest in his body. The martyr sufferings of the Lord when dying called forth no murmur, no complaint, from His lips; on the contrary, they drew forth the infinite love of His heart and led him to pray for His murderers.
After this perfect pattern, the sufferings and persecutions, to which the apostle was exposed through this body, became the occasion to show forth the graces of the life of Jesus. If the apostle was continually delivered unto death, it was not a chastisement for anything that needed correction in his life. It was not for his sake but for Jesus' sake that death was allowed to roll in upon him, in order that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in his mortal flesh. While Paul suffered the trials of death, others saw the blessedness of life; as he can say, "So then death worketh in us, but life in you".
(V. 13). The apostle passes on to speak of the power that, on his side, sustained him in all these trials. It was the power of faith. It was the same spirit of faith that sustained the psalmist when the sorrows of death compassed him, when he found trouble and sorrow, and was greatly afflicted. Then he could speak of life, for he said, "I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living". Then he tells us how it was that, in the midst of death, he could speak of life, for he says, I believed, therefore have I spoken" (Psalm 116:3,9,10).
(V. 14). Furthermore, the apostle tells us what sustained his faith. He had before him the mighty power of God that had raised Christ from the dead; by faith he knew that that same power was toward him and would raise him up with Jesus, and present him to Jesus, in company with the living and changed saints. Thus he could face death daily, sustained by faith in the God of resurrection.
(V. 15). Moreover, all the trials and experiences that the apostle passed through were for the sake of the church and for the glory of God. His trials were not merely for his good, but for the good of all; in this way the grace given to one abounds to many, giving cause for thanksgiving from many to the glory of God.
(V. 16). Thus, if the glory of God was secured through the trials of the apostle, he did not faint. Nevertheless, the outward man - the man in touch with this scene - is wearing away under the stress of trials, persecution, infirmities, and age. The inward man - the man in touch with spiritual, unseen things - is renewed day by day. There is spiritual growth in the inner man. The very trials and infirmities that weaken and wear the body become the occasion to strengthen and renew the spirit.
(V. 17). Seeing, then, that in trials and afflictions the inner man is renewed, the apostle counts the present afflictions but "light", and only lasting "for a moment", and working for good. These momentary trials will have an eternal answer. The afflictions are temporal, light and humiliating, but they work an "eternal weight of glory".
It is, however, only as we look, not at the things seen, but at the things which are not seen, that we are sustained without fainting in the midst of trials. Things seen are only for a time; the things not seen are eternal.
The preceding chapter closed with beholding the glory of the Lord: this closes with looking on the things unseen. There the believer reflects Christ by beholding Christ in glory, and is thus sustained as an epistle of Christ, known and read of all men. Here he is sustained in the midst of trials by looking at the unseen and eternal weight of glory yet to come.
In the course of the chapter, we see a beautiful unfolding of a true servant viewed as a vessel of the Lord. We sometimes speak of being channels of blessing, but does Scripture ever speak in this way? A channel is merely a conduit through which something flows; it holds nothing. A vessel holds something and has to be filled before it can impart to others.
First, we see that the vessel must be a clean vessel for the use of the Lord - set apart from the things of shame (verse 2).
Secondly, the vessel must be emptied. All that is of self must be set aside, that Christ may have His true place as "the Lord", and we our place as "servants" (verse 5).
Thirdly, the vessel must be filled. The light of Christ in glory must fill our hearts in order that we may be witnesses to Christ (verse 6). Stephen became a wonderful witness for Christ when, filled with the Holy Spirit, he "looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God".
Fourthly, the vessel must be broken for the power of God to be manifest. We are but earthen vessels, and the very weakness of the body becomes the occasion for the display of the power of God (verses 7-9). How remarkably was God's power displayed in Stephen when the stones were breaking up the earthen vessel!
Fifthly, the vessel being broken, the light shines out (verses 10-12). If the sentence of death is kept upon all that we are as in the flesh, the life of Jesus will shine out. When Stephen, in a literal sense, was "delivered unto death for Jesus' sake", the life also of Jesus was made manifest; for he prayed for his murderers, even as Christ did, and commended his spirit to the Lord, even as the Lord commended His to the Father.
Sixthly, the light of the life of Jesus shining out of the earthen vessel, it becomes a vessel for the glory of God (verse 15).
Seventhly, the one that uses the vessel for the glory of God will have the blessed realisation that he is passing on to the "eternal weight of glory " (verse 17).
In the last chapter we have learned that the apostle was kept from fainting under his many trials by looking beyond the seen things of time to the unseen things of eternity. In chapter 5 we are privileged to learn something of the blessedness of these eternal things. We look into "the heavens" to see that there is a body of glory that awaits each believer; that we shall be with the Lord (verse 8); and that we shall have part in the new creation in which "old things are passed away" and "all things are become new" (verse 17).
(Vv. 1-4). Using the figure of a house, the apostle contrasts these mortal bodies in which we dwell with the bodies of glory that are prepared for us. Our present dwelling is earthly, of man, temporal and mortal. Our body of glory is "from heaven", "from God", eternal and immortal. With the confidence that faith gives, the believer can say, without a shade of uncertainty, "We know" the blessed portion that awaits us when set free from these mortal bodies. With this portion assured to us, the apostle can twice say, "We groan". Having in view the glory of the new body, we groan with earnest desire to have put it on. Feeling the burdens that press upon the mortal body, we groan with longing to have put it off. When here on earth, the Lord groaned as He felt the sorrows that came upon His own while in these mortal bodies (John 11:33,38). God permits a groan, but never a grumble.
Being clothed with this glorious body, we shall not be found "naked", as Adam fallen and exposed to judgment. Nor does the apostle desire death as such. He does not seek to be unclothed merely, and thus escape present trials, blessed as that will be. He longs for the full blessedness of having the new body. He is looking for the rapture, when the bodies of living believers will be changed into bodies of glory without passing through death; for here he does not speak of corruption putting on incorruption, but of the mortal body putting on immortality, and thus "swallowed up of life".
(V. 5). This blessed portion will be wholly the result of God's work. He has wrought us in view of this new creation body and, that we may even now enter into the blessedness of the future, He has given us the earnest of the Spirit.
(Vv. 6-8). Entering into this glorious prospect by the earnest of the Spirit, we are "always confident". If still present in the body, and thus absent from the Lord, we are confident, for we walk by faith, not by sight. If called to pass through death before the Lord comes, "we are confident", for this will mean the blessedness of being "present with the Lord".
(V. 9). The practical effect of entering into the blessedness of the portion that lies before us will be to make us zealous to be "agreeable" to God in all our walk and ways, not only in the future, but during the time that we are absent from the Lord. We may, indeed, show much zeal in seeking to live in a way that is agreeable to ourselves or in making ourselves agreeable to others. But we do well to ask ourselves, are we zealous that, in all our thoughts and words, and walk and ways, we may be well-pleasing to God?
(V. 10). The mention of our walk leads the apostle to speak of our responsible path, and what we have done in contrast with what God in his sovereignty has wrought. Thus he looks on to the judgment seat of Christ that lies at the end of our responsible path. He says, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ". The context would seem to show that the statement of the apostle is general, in as far as it includes believers and unbelievers. Seeing, however, that believers will be there, he does not say, "We must all be judged", but, "We must all be manifested". For the same reason, it may be, he does not speak of the judgment of persons, but of "the things done in the body". The Lord's own words tell us that the believer "does not come into judgment" (John 5:24). Again, let us remember that we reach the judgment seat of Christ by the coming of Christ, whereby we shall be changed into "the image of the heavenly". Thus, when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ, we shall have a body of glory like Christ; we shall be as the Judge.
For believers it will be our deeds, the things done in the flesh, both good and bad, that will be passed in review. How much of the failure, as well as the good in our lives, we have entirely forgotten or never even known, but all will be recalled then, so that we shall know as we are known. Will not the effect be to deepen the appreciation of the love and grace that, on the one hand, has already dealt with all our evil and brought us safely home in spite of our many failures, and, on the other hand, rewards the smallest act that had Christ for its motive? Were all the past not recalled, we should, as one has said, "lose materials for the song of praise which will be ours for ever". The manifestation at the judgment seat of Christ is not to fit us for the glory, but to enable us to enjoy the glory to the full.
(V. 11). The apostle proceeds to speak of the present effect of knowing that we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ. Though believers as well as unbelievers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we know from other Scriptures that it will be at very different times and for very different ends. For unbelievers, the day of manifestation will be one of terror, for it will mean not only the manifestation of deeds, but the judgment of themselves. Knowing this, the apostle persuades men to flee from the wrath to come.
Further, the effect of knowing that we shall be manifested at the judgment seat of Christ will be to seek to be "manifest unto God" even now, and thus live and walk in the presence of One to Whom we are fully known. Moreover, the apostle's confidence was that, so walking before God, he would manifest a walk towards the saints that would be approved by their consciences.
(V. 12). His life thus speaking, there would be no need to commend himself; nevertheless, he trusted that his life would give them occasion to glory on his behalf, and so answer those who gloried in outward appearance before men, while lacking the pure and hidden motives of the heart before God.
(Vv. 13,14). In contrast with heartless boasters in outward appearance, the apostle was moved by divine affections, which lifted him outside himself in the joy of all that God is, and yet made him deeply sober as regards the saints. But whether beside himself or sober, it was the love of Christ that constrained him. That love had been manifested in all its fulness at the Cross. There Christ died for all; the witness of the love of Christ to all, as well as of the deep need of all. Thus, in Paul's preaching to the world, he was moved both by the terror of the Lord and the constraining love of Christ.
Thus there passes before us, in these searching verses, the practical effect of knowing that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ:
First, as regards the world, it led the apostle to "persuade men";
Secondly, as regards himself, it led him to walk as under the eye of God, being manifest to Him;
Thirdly, as regards the saints, it led him to walk in a way that would commend him to their consciences.
Therefore in his walk and ways, he considered the need of the world, the fear of God, and the consciences of the saints.
(V. 15). The apostle passes on to speak of the love of Christ as the constraining power of the new life of the believer. If, in His great love, Christ has died for us and risen again, it becomes us no longer to live unto ourselves, but "unto Him".
(Vv. 16-18). But if Christ died and rose again, He is One that we can no longer know on earth, and in the flesh, but as One Who has a glorified body, in an entirely new place in glory. This leads the apostle to speak of "new creation". Death is the end of the old creation, and resurrection is the beginning of the new. In the old creation, the material world was first created, and then Adam, the head of that creation. In the new, Christ, the Head, comes first, then those who are Christ's; and, finally, the new heavens and the new earth, in which "old things are passed away" - sin, sorrow, pain, tears, and death - and where all things are new, and "all things are of God". All things in that fair scene being of God, all things will be suited to God, and thus it will be a scene in which God can rest with perfect complacency. In the meantime, God has already reconciled believers to Himself by Jesus Christ. By the work of Christ we are set before God in Christ, free from the penalty of sin, in all the favour that rests upon Christ in the glory, and with the love of God shed abroad in our hearts.
Being reconciled, the apostle can say that a ministry of reconciliation is given to us, with which we can go to the world. When Christ was here, God was in Christ proclaiming the love and grace of God. But Christ has been rejected and gone from the world. But, even so, during the time of His absence, the grace of God sends His servants as ambassadors for Christ, beseeching the poor world, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God. It will be noticed that the "you", twice repeated in italics, and the "ye", should be omitted. The insertion of these pronouns limits the truth to believers, whereas the appeal is to the world.
The believer is reconciled, and knows that this has been effected by the death of Christ, in which He was made, on the Cross, what we were before God, that we might become what He is before God in the glory, and thus made perfectly suited to God. In view of the coming judgment, the apostle "persuades" men; in view of the grace of God that proclaims the work of reconciliation, he "beseeches" men. If men refuse the grace that reconciles, there is nothing left for them but the terror of judgment.
To sum up the great truths of the chapter, there pass before us:
First, the house which is from heaven, delivering us from fear as to what may come upon these bodies while down here (verses 1-8);
Secondly, the judgment seat of Christ, which leads us to seek to be agreeable to Christ and to persuade men (verses 9-12);
Thirdly, the love of Christ, which constrains us to live unto Him and not to ourselves (verses 13-15);
Fourthly, the new creation, that delivers us from knowing men after the flesh (verses 16,17);
Fifthly, reconciliation, which leads us to entreat others to be reconciled to God (verses 19-21).
(V. 1). In the close of chapter 5 the apostle tells us that he beseeches sinners to be reconciled to God. This chapter opens with an appeal to saints, beseeching them not to receive the grace of God in vain. In this exhortation there is no thought of calling in question the security of the believer, nor any suggestion that grace once received can be lost. The context in verse 3 clearly shows that this is an appeal to those who have received the grace of God that brings salvation to beware of allowing anything in their practice inconsistent with this grace. An exhortation to which we all do well to take heed, but which had a special application to those whose conduct had laid them open to severe censure.
(V. 2). To show the greatness of God's grace that proclaims salvation to a world of sinners, the apostle quotes from Isaiah 49. In this prophecy we learn that, though Christ is rejected by man, yet God is glorified in Christ, and Christ is glorious in the eyes of Jehovah (verses 3-5). Then, God being glorified, we learn that, in the future, Israel will be restored, and blessing will flow out to the Gentiles, carrying salvation to the ends of the earth (verse 6). This leads to the passage quoted by the apostle, which tells us that all this blessing comes through Christ being heard, accepted, and succoured by God. On the ground of all that Christ is, and has done, the grace of God is preached to the Gentiles during the time that Christ is the accepted Man in the glory, and believers accepted in Him, thus bringing in the day when salvation is proclaimed to sinners.
(V. 3). How important, then, in this day of salvation, that those who have received this grace should not allow anything inconsistent in their lives that would stumble those to whom the grace is proclaimed or bring the preaching into contempt. Christianity is to be made known, not only by the proclamation of great truths, but also by the changed lives of those who preach the truths.
(V. 4). Thus, in a striking passage, the apostle is led to set forth the life lived by himself and his fellow-workers in the presence of trials and opposition, which not only brought no blame on the ministry, but exhibited moral qualities that commended the ministers.
First, the apostle speaks of trying circumstances that are common to mankind: "afflictions" that touch the body; "necessities" that arise from daily needs; and "straits" from a lack of resources to meet these needs. All these things were met with "patience", or "endurance", that commended the servants.
(V. 5). Secondly, they commended themselves by the patience with which they met the special trials that came upon them as the servants of the Lord - stripes, imprisonments, and tumults.
Thirdly, they further commended themselves by the patience with which they met all the exercises in connection with the Lord's work and the Lord's people - labours, watchings, and fastings.
(Vv. 6-10). Fourthly, these servants commended themselves by exhibiting some of the lovely moral qualities that marked Christ in His pathway through this world - pureness, knowledge, longsuffering, and kindness.
Fifthly, they also commended themselves by the power and motives that animated them in their service. It was carried out, not in the flesh, but "in the Holy Spirit"; not in malice and envy, but "in love"; not according to man's speculations, but "in the word of truth"; not in human power, but "in the power of God".
Sixthly, they commended themselves by a life of practical righteousness in relation to men on every hand, whether they were treated with honour and dishonour, and through evil report and good report. Thus, having on the breastplate of righteousness, they were armed against every attack of the enemy.
Seventhly, they commended themselves as the servants of God by following, in their measure, the path that Christ had trodden in perfection. In a world such as this, the true servant of God will at times be treated as a deceiver by some, and as true by others. It was so with the Lord, for some dared to say, "He deceiveth the people", while others said that He was "a good Man" (John 7:12). In His path the Lord was treated as "unknown", for the Pharisees said, "As for this fellow, we know not from whence He is", whereas the man with the opened eyes could say, "We know" that He is "of God" (John 9:29-32). He too, again and again, was faced with death, and yet He lived (Luke 4:29,30; John 8:59). In these ways the disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord.
Moreover, in our pathway, we have to meet that which was unknown to the Lord. To keep our feet in the path, we may have to be disciplined by trying circumstances, though not allowed to be killed. In such trials the servants of the Lord can approve themselves by their submission, even as Job who, in his great trial, could say, "The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). Such dealings of the Lord will prepare us to enter, in some measure, into the experiences of the Lord, Who was, indeed, the Man of sorrows, and yet with a hidden spring of joy (Luke 10:21). He, too, became poor that we through His poverty might be rich (2 Corinthians 8:9); and He passed through this world as having nothing, yet possessing all things. Without the money to pay the tribute, He could yet command the fishes of the sea (Matthew 17:24-27).
Thus, whether in the circumstances they passed through, or in the trials they had to meet, in the spiritual exercises their service involved, in the moral qualities they exhibited, in the practical righteousness that marked them, or in the path they trod in following the Master, the apostle and his fellow-workers commended themselves as the servants of God.
(Vv. 11-13). But in passing before the Corinthian assembly a review of the life he lived, he was opening his heart to them with great fulness, and the fact that he did so was a proof of his love to them. His heart was expanded towards them. They had no narrow place in his affections, even if they had lost their affection for him. Moreover, by opening his heart to them, he looked for a revival of their love to him, and hence for his love to be recompensed. They were his children in the faith, and he could therefore well count upon their hearts expanding in love to him.
(V. 14). Having appealed to their heart, the apostle now addresses their conscience. Their straitened affections towards him could be traced to their lax associations with unbelievers. As ever, worldly associations rob believers of spiritual affections, and unfit them for communion with Christ and the enjoyment of the Christian circle. With a single eye to Christ, our feet will be kept in the narrow path of separation from the world, while our hearts will be enlarged to all that are Christ's.
Alluding to the law, which forbade such diverse animals as an ox and an ass being yoked together at the plough (Deuteronomy 22:10), the apostle warns us against being "diversely yoked with unbelievers". The apostle then advances four reasons that show the utter inconsistency of the unequal yoke.
First, believers and unbelievers are governed by opposing principles. Righteousness can have no fellowship with unrighteousness, nor light with darkness. The apostle does not imply that the unbeliever is necessarily dishonest in his dealing with his fellow-man; but he acts according to his own will, without reference to God, and walks in ignorance of God.
(V. 15). Secondly, believers and unbelievers are under very different leadership. The believer is controlled by Christ; the unbeliever is directed by the prince of this world, Belial - a name that implies a worthless or lawless person, and hence used as a proper name to designate Satan. What concord can there be between Christ and Belial?
Thirdly, if there is no concord between Christ and Belial, there can be no part between their followers believers and unbelievers.
(V. 16). Fourthly, the saints of God viewed collectively, as the temple of God, cannot be in agreement with those who pursue any idolatrous object that ignores God. The Scriptures clearly show that even under law it was God's intention to dwell among His people (Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:12). In a much deeper and more spiritual sense is this true when the Holy Spirit has come, for the apostle can say, "Ye are the temple of the living God".
(V. 17). Seeing, then, that believers are marked by righteousness and light, under the leadership of Christ, and form the temple of God, there is the imperative obligation to come out from the world and to be separate from evil. The apostle presses his exhortation by alluding to Isaiah 52:11, where we read, "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD".
(V. 18). Again the apostle quotes from the Old Testament to show that in the outside place - in separation from the world and its uncleanness - believers can enjoy their relationship with God as Father. Grace, indeed, on the ground of the work of Christ has secured this relationship for believers; but only as we are in separation from the world and its evil can it be enjoyed. The Father is ever ready to manifest His love, but He cannot compromise His holiness.
Thus the apostle seeks to arouse our consciences as to every association inconsistent with our portion and privileges as Christians, so that our feet may be kept in the narrow path of separation, with our hearts enlarged to embrace all God's people while walking in the fear of God.
(Chapter 7:1). The apostle sums up his exhortation by appealing to these saints as dearly beloved, to act upon these promises, and to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. We may, alas! be careful to maintain an outwardly blameless life, and yet be careless as to our thoughts. Walking in separation from evil without and within, we will grow in holiness as we walk in the fear of God.
Having set forth the consistent life of himself and his fellow-workers, and exhorted the assembly at Corinth to be consistent with the grace of God in their lives and associations, the apostle now seeks to remove any wrong impression of himself that might have arisen in their hearts, whether through his faithful dealing with them, or through the malicious insinuations of those who were seeking to belittle him in order to exalt themselves (chapter 10). He seeks to show that, in all his faithful letters and actions towards this assembly, he was moved by care for the saints in the sight of God (verse 12).
(V. 2). He desires that they would receive him without suspicion or reserve. He had neither wronged any of them, nor used his position or ministry to make gain, and thus defraud any one.
(V. 3). In speaking thus he had no desire to condemn them, but rather to remove any hindrance to the outflow of love that desired their full fellowship both in death and life.
(V. 4). So far from condemning, he would, with the greatest plainness of speech, glory in respect of them, for he was comforted as to them. His heart, which had indeed been closed with sorrow, was now opened in joy to express without reserve its affection for them.
(Vv. 5-7). He would have them to know that the source of his joy was the God of all comfort, Who had used the coming of Titus to comfort him with the report of their mourning as to all that he had condemned in their midst, as well as the fervent love they had shown to himself. Thus the apostle would not only turn their thoughts and affections to himself, but also to Titus, who had spoken so well of them, and, above all, to the source of all blessing - the God of all comfort.
(Vv. 8-11). He recognises that the first epistle had made them sad, and this he had regretted. But since hearing from Titus the effect it produced, he no longer had any regrets, for he now learned that it had wrought repentance, and that their sorrow was after a godly sort, not the hopeless sorrow of the world that works death. Thus Paul can rejoice, not indeed for the sorrow, but in that which the sorrow produced. This sorrow was but for a season ; it was a sorrow according to God ; being sorrow of a godly sort, it wrought repentance to salvation, not to be repented of; and it brought forth fruits worthy of repentance, set forth in the earnest way in which they dealt with the matter and cleared themselves from evil. Moreover, they had not only dealt with the actual evil, but had cleared themselves of their own laxity. How different the sorrow of this world as seen in the solemn case of Judas, whose sorrow instead of being godly was only of man, and instead of working repentance led only to death.
(V. 12). Further, the apostle would assure these saints that in writing his first epistle he had in view, not simply the wrong-doer or even the sufferer of the wrong, but the care of believers in the sight of God.
(Vv. 13-16). Moreover, he was comforted because they were comforted, and rejoiced in that Titus had been refreshed in spirit by them all. He was not ashamed that he had spoken well of them to Titus, for all that he had said proved to be true; and the love of Titus flowed out to them more abundantly as he recalled their obedience; and the apostle's confidence in them was confirmed.
How beautiful to see this godly care for believers in the sight of God expressing itself in faithfulness as regards that which is wrong; in love that grieves over the sorrows of the saints and rejoices in their joy; and in confidence in them when obedient to the directions of the word.
Having sought to assure the Corinthian assembly of his care for believers in the sight of God (7:12), the apostle now seeks to stir up their care for the Lord's needy people.
(Vv. 1-5). He seeks to arouse their affection for others by bringing before them the example of the assemblies in Macedonia, who had helped to meet the needs of their persecuted brethren in Jerusalem and Judæa. If, however, they had given to others, it was the grace of God that enabled them to help the needy, though they themselves were passing through afflictions and in deep poverty. Nevertheless, if passing through afflictions in temporal things, they had abundance of joy in spiritual blessings. This joy in spiritual things made them willing givers in temporal things to those through whom they had received spiritual blessings. They had therefore begged the apostle, with much entreaty, to have fellowship with them by undertaking to minister their gift to the saints in Judæa.
Moreover, behind their gifts to the saints there was the blessed fact that already they had given themselves to the Lord. This made it simple to carry out the will of God by putting themselves into the hands of the apostle to minister their gift. Joy in the Lord led them to give themselves wholly to the Lord for His will, and thus to give to those who were the Lord's. Their service in material things had a spiritual motive.
(Vv. 6, 7). Now the apostle desires that the grace seen in the Macedonian assemblies might be found also in the assembly at Corinth. To this end he hoped that Titus would be used in their midst. He recognises in how many ways they were enriched as an assembly, having faith, utterance, knowledge, all diligence, and love to himself, but he desires that they might also abound in the grace that cares for God's needy people.
(V. 8). Nevertheless, in thus exhorting them, he was not in any sense commanding them to give, but rather using the liberality of others to stir them up to act with the same grace, and so prove the sincerity of their love for the Lord's people.
(V. 9). To awaken this love, the apostle reminds them that in Christ we have the most transcendent example of giving. The rich may give from the abundance of their riches; others, like the Macedonian believers, may out of the abundance of their joy give to others when they themselves are in deep poverty; but in Christ we see One Who was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, in order to give to others the true riches.
(Vv. 10-15). Having brought before them an example of giving in the assemblies of Macedonia, and above all the supreme example of the Lord Jesus, and having made it clear that he was not giving an apostolic command, he now gives his advice. What they had already commenced to do "a year ago" to help their needy Jewish brethren, let them now complete. But let their giving be on right principles.
First, let it be of " a willing mind " for, as the apostle tells them a little later, "God loveth a cheerful giver" (9:7).
Secondly, let their giving be " according to that a man hath ". There is no thought of meeting the need of one by reducing another to need, and thus easing the burden upon one by putting the burden upon another.
Thirdly, the giving is to produce an " equality ". Not necessarily an equality in wealth or social position, but that each may be equally delivered from need. The apostle gives an example of this equality by a reference to the manna. There might have been a great difference between the amount of manna gathered by different individuals, for some gathered much and some little, but all were alike in this that every need was met.
(Vv. 16-24). In the remainder of the chapter we see the apostle's care that the administration of the gifts of the saints should be above suspicion, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. He can thank God that the same care that filled his own heart for the people of God was found also in the heart of Titus (compare verse 16 with 7:12). Moreover, that all may be above suspicion or question, the apostle sends with Titus two other brothers - one, be it remarked, that is not only approved by the apostle, but whose praise is in all the assemblies, and chosen by the assemblies to administer this bounty. While the need of the saints is met, the glory of the Lord is maintained, and all occasion for question avoided. The other brother was one who, by experience, had been proved diligent in many things, and who had "great confidence" as to the assembly at Corinth.
If any enquired as to these brothers, let them note that Titus was a partner and fellow-helper of the apostle in caring for the assembly at Corinth, and the other two brothers were well-known as the messengers of the assemblies, and they were, as such, the glory of Christ. They can, therefore, with full confidence express their love before these brothers and the assemblies by their bounty to God's needy people, and so justify the apostle's boasting on their behalf.
(Vv. 1, 2). Though the apostle had written to the assembly at Corinth to awaken their care for the needy among God's people, he felt that it was somewhat superfluous, seeing he knew their readiness of mind to help in this service. Indeed, in this respect, he had boasted of them to those in Macedonia, even as he had just used the saints in Macedonia as an example for those to whom he was writing in Achaia. Their zeal had been used to provoke others to this good work.
(Vv. 3-5). Nevertheless, he had thought it well to send the brethren, of whom he had been writing, that the gift, which the assemblies in Achaia had proposed to send to their poor brethren in Jerusalem and Judæa, might be ready when he came, accompanied by some from Macedonia. The gift being ready beforehand, he would feel no shame in having spoken so well of the Corinthian saints to those of Macedonia. He desired that their gift might be a matter of true bounty and not something obtained from them, as if their wealth was coveted.
(V. 6). Quoting from the Proverbs, he reminds them how true it is that the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, even as the bountiful sower will be a bountiful receiver (Proverbs 11:24,25; 22:9).
(V. 7). This leads the apostle to speak of the spirit of giving, which, in God's sight, is more important than the gift. Let each give "according as he is purposed in his heart", not influenced by outward pressure, and not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver.
(Vv. 8, 9). Moreover, to those who, in a right spirit, give to the needy, God can make all grace abound, so that the giver shall have all sufficiency in all things, and thus be able to abound in every good work. This, indeed, is according to the unchanging principles of God's governmental ways, as it is written, "He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour" (Psalm 112:9).
(Vv. 10-12). In this confidence in the grace of God, the apostle looks to God to multiply their means, so that they may be able to give with all bountifulness, and thus become an occasion for thankfulness to God. For this service of giving not only meets the needs of poor saints, but becomes the occasion of turning many hearts to God in thankfulness.
(Vv. 13,14). Moreover, this gift from Gentile converts to Jewish believers becomes an occasion for glorifying God that the Gentiles had received the gospel of Christ, as well as for their liberality. Further, it drew out their prayers on behalf of these saints, as well as thanksgiving to God.
(V. 15). But, above all temporal gifts, for which we may rightly be thankful, the apostle reminds us never to forget to thank God for His unspeakable gift. "For whatsoever may be the fruits of grace, we have the proof and the power in that which God has given" (JND).
In the two preceding chapters, the apostle had dealt with the subject of giving and receiving, but he was careful to explain that in doing so he was not writing by apostolic command, but rather as giving brotherly advice (8:8-10). There were, however, some who were glorying in the flesh and, in order to exalt themselves, were seeking to discredit the apostle by calling in question his authority, given to him by God. Thus they sought to weaken his testimony and so draw the saints from the One to Whom they had been espoused by the apostle's ministry. It thus became a necessity for the apostle to vindicate his authority as an apostle of Christ and warn them against adversaries who, under the false profession of being "apostles of Christ", were really ministers of Satan (11:13,14). To maintain his trulygiven apostleship and expose these false pretenders is the leading subject of the remainder of the epistle.
(V. 1). The apostle, however, evidently felt that it was a serious thing to speak of himself or to expose the evil of others; but if circumstances make it necessary, he seeks to speak in a right spirit, marked by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Even so, at a later date, he can exhort Timothy to be "gentle", and "patient", and show "meekness", in meeting "those that oppose themselves" (2 Timothy 2:24,25).
The apostle admits that in presence he may have an insignificant personal appearance to these Greeks, who naturally made much of a fine physique; though they had to own that, being absent, he used great boldness in his letters.
(Vv. 2, 3). He warns them, however, that although poor in personal appearance, let them be careful that when present there may be no occasion for using boldness in exposing those who thought of him as if he "walked according to the flesh". He may, indeed, "walk in the flesh" - a poor body; but he did not carry on the conflict against the enemy "according to flesh" - the old, evil nature. One has truly said, "All who live here below can say the former; how few the latter - at least as the apostle could" (WK).
(Vv. 4, 5). Not warring according to the flesh, he had no use for fleshly weapons in his conflict with the enemy. He found that the meekness and gentleness of Christ were the weapons used by God. Five smooth stones and a sling seemed feeble weapons with which to meet a fully armoured giant: but one stone in the hands of a youth was mighty through God to bring down the giant. So the meekness and gentleness of Christ, used by a man whose bodily presence was insignificant, were "mighty through God" to pulling down the strongholds of Satan, bringing to nothing the proud reasonings of the human mind that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and in bringing every thought into submission to Christ.
(V. 6). The apostle, however, trusted that, when again present with them, there would be no necessity to use this holy boldness against opposers. He recognised their measure of obedience to his first letter, and trusted that they would all be united in full obedience before he again visited them. If, however, there were any still disobedient, he would be ready to "avenge all disobedience".
(Vv. 7-11). The apostle's question, "Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?" indicates that some in the assembly at Corinth had argued that one with such a weak appearance and poor style of speech could not be an ambassador of Christ. This means that such were trusting that they were of Christ because of some fancied quality in themselves. In contrast with his detractors, could he not bring forward, without shame, as proof that he was of Christ, the fact of his apostolic authority given to him by the Lord for the edification of the saints, and not for their overthrow? However, he refrained from pressing his apostolic authority lest it might appear that he was seeking to terrify them by his letters, and thus give an occasion to his opposers. Apparently, his detractors sought to undermine the apostle's influence by suggesting that the saints need not pay any attention to his weighty and powerful letters, as they were merely an effort to counteract the effect of his weak bodily presence and contemptible speech. Let them remember, however, that as he was in word, when absent, so would he be in deed toward these opposers when present.
(V. 12). The apostle dare not join with those who thus betrayed their fleshly pretensions by vaunting themselves and belittling others. Thus measuring themselves by human standards, and comparing themselves with one another, they betrayed their utter lack of spiritual intelligence.
(V. 13). The apostle would not boast of things outside the sphere to which he had been sent by God. The measure to which his ministry was to extend had been given by God, and reached to the Corinthians. In coming to them, as in writing to them, he was therefore not stretching beyond the measure given of God or intruding upon another man's sphere of labour. With the confidence that at Corinth he was working in obedience to the will of God, he had the hope that, with the increase of their faith in God to direct His servants, he would yet have an enlarged place in their affections and be used for more abundant blessing. Thus he hoped that, through this assembly, the way would be opened for him to preach the gospel in the regions beyond them, where hitherto no servant of God had laboured. Thus he would not be boasting in work already accomplished by another man's line of service.
(Vv. 17,18). Further, the apostle warns us not only to beware of seeking to exalt ourselves through the labours of others, but also to beware of boasting in our own work. "He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord" (N.Tn). Well, indeed, for each servant to refrain from all self-commendation, and not look even for the commendation of his brethren, but covet only the Lord's approval, for "not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth".
(V. 1). If, as the apostle has just said, it is only he whom the Lord commends that is approved, it must, under ordinary circumstances, be folly to commend oneself. The occasion, however, had arisen when he deemed it necessary to speak of himself. He therefore asks the saints to bear with him in what might appear to be a little folly on his part.
(Vv. 2-4). Accordingly, he first sets forth the motive that actuated him in speaking of himself, as well as the occasion that called for self-vindication. It was no mere vanity of the flesh that loves to exalt itself that moved the apostle, but godly jealousy for the glory of Christ and the blessing of the saints. Using the figure of a man and his bride, he says, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ". He had presented Christ to them as the One Who is altogether lovely, and engaged their hearts with Him. His desire now was to present them to Christ in perfect suitability as a chaste virgin. He longed that the saints should be found in holy separation from this defiling world, walking in simple-hearted devotedness to Christ. He foresaw that the enemy was making a subtle attempt to draw them away from Christ, even as in the garden of Eden he beguiled Eve from her allegiance to God. We know that Satan tempted Eve with the acquisition of knowledge. He said, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil". Again, he sought to steal the hearts of the Corinthian saints from Christ - the Tree of Life - by tempting them with the tree of knowledge. The apostle, in his first epistle, admits that they were enriched "in all knowledge", but warns them that knowledge without love "puffeth up" (1 Corinthians 1:5; 8:1-3). As of old, the enemy approached Eve with the question, "Hath God said?" thus calling in question the word of God; so today he has sought to undermine God's word by substituting human reason for divine revelation, and has thus corrupted the great Christian profession by presenting "another Jesus", "another Spirit", and "another gospel" than that of God's Word. Thus souls have been drawn away from the truth that is presented in Christ. This surely is the evil root that will lead to the great apostasy. If, then, this was the danger to which the saints at Corinth were exposed, they might well bear with the apostle, through whom they had received the truth, if he has to speak of himself in defending the saints from false brethren.
(Vv. 5, 6). These false teachers were seeking to undermine the apostle's work by calling in question his apostleship and service. He could truly say, that he "was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles". He might be simple in speech, yet he had no lack of divine knowledge, for in everything he had made manifest the truth to them.
(Vv. 7-10). Was it an offence that, when with them, he had worked with his own hands to meet his needs, so that he might preach the gospel to them freely? He had indeed received help from other assemblies for service rendered to the saints at Corinth; and those who accompanied him from Macedonia had helped to supply his temporal needs. Thus no man could stop him from boasting that he had been no financial burden to those of Achaia.
(Vv. 11, 12). But was it because he had no love for them that he refused their temporal aid? Far from it. His motive was to cut off occasion from those who were boasting that, in contrast with the apostle, they were no burden to the assembly.
(Vv. 13-15). Such were false apostles, deceitful workers; not as Paul, "an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God", but self-appointed apostles, " transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ". In reality they were the ministers of Satan, who knows how to deceive with a fair appearance by transforming himself into an angel of light. Copying their master, these false men covered up their evil with a show of good works, as if ministers of righteousness. Their end will be according to their works. In the opposition of these ministers of Satan to the true minister of Christ, we see the inception of that vast system of corruption, of which in its end God declares that "in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth" (Revelation 18:24).
(Vv. 16-21). The apostle had shown that, in contrast with these "false apostles", he had preached "the gospel of God", attached souls to Christ, and had served freely to take occasion from those who were exalting themselves and taking the money of the saints (verse 20, N.Tn). But there is another way in which the true servant is strikingly contrasted with these false men, namely the reproach and sufferings endured for the Lord's sake in the course of his service. Of these sufferings the apostle now speaks; but, before doing so, he again expresses his deep reluctance to speak of himself. If he has to do so in order to prove his integrity, he trusts that no man will think him a fool. If, however, they think he is speaking as a fool, let them bear with him for a little. The apostle realised that boasting of self, in whatever form it might take, whether as to readiness of speech, intellectual powers, independent means, family connections or social position, was far from being of the Lord. But if there were those who gloried according to the flesh, he also could do so, and they would have no ground for complaint, seeing that they readily suffered fools who brought them into bondage to man, preyed upon them, took their money, exalted themselves while insulting others. Not to act as these men had acted might appear to be mere weakness on his part. Howbeit, if they think him weak, he will show them that he can be bold, although he still thinks that to speak of himself is foolishness.
Did his opposers take the low ground of priding themselves on their Jewish extraction, as being Hebrews and of the nation of Israel, claiming descent from Abraham? Well, the apostle can say as much (verse 22).
(Vv. 23-29). But passing on to speak of the far higher privilege of being a servant of Christ, he asks, "Are they ministers of Christ?" He may be speaking foolishly, but he has no hesitation in saying that he is a minister of Christ "above measure" more than these men (N.Tn). To prove his words he brings forward a wonderful summary of his labours and sufferings for Christ's sake. His faithful labours as the servant of Christ had brought him into prison, and face to face with death, and persecution from the Jews. It had necessitated many journeys, with the perils entailed by shipwreck and in passing through water, facing robbers, the hatred of his own countrymen, and the opposition of the heathen. Thus he had faced perils in the city, in the wilderness, and on the sea. Above all, he had to face "perils among false brethren". These perils entailed for him labour and toil, constant watchings, fastings, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. Beside all these outward sufferings, he had to endure in his spirit the burden of all the assemblies. Were any weak, he felt for them in their weakness. Were any stumbled, he was deeply moved against those by whom they were stumbled.
(Vv. 30-33). If, however, it is needful for the apostle to boast, he does not speak of his mighty, miraculous powers or even of the revelations he had received - things in which, as an apostle, he stood alone - but he boasts, rather, of the things that concern his infirmities - things in which it is possible for others to share in their little measure. Of these things he can say that God knows that he speaks the truth. Moreover, how many of these things are of a character about which the natural man would have remained silent. He closes this part of his letter by referring to such an incident, in which, as one has said, "No angelic visitors opened bars and bolts of massive doors, nor blinded the eyes of the garrison". But to effect his escape from his enemies, he had to submit to the indignity of being let down through a window in a basket over the city wall. Thus, if others boasted in their gifts, their knowledge, and excellency of speech, he could glory in his infirmities and weaknesses, which became the occasion of displaying the power of God, Who can keep and use His servant in spite of all weakness and in the midst of the most distressing circumstances.
As we read this deeply instructive chapter, we see, on the one hand, a striking picture of a devoted servant of the Lord Jesus, and the suffering that faithful service entails in the world that has rejected Christ - all leading to the day when the saints will be presented to Christ. On the other hand, we see, even in the apostle's day, the beginning of those evils that have been increasing throughout the history of Christendom, and will end in the corrupt Christian profession being spued out of the mouth of Christ.
Looking a little more closely at these two pictures, let us first notice, in reference to the apostle, that, in this passage, there is no mention of any miraculous gifts by which the sick were healed, demons cast out, and the dead raised. Again, there is no allusion to apostolic prerogatives, bringing to the saints fresh revelations or foretelling future events. Neither is there any assumption of outstanding abilities that would enable the possessor to speak with great eloquence or to appeal to the emotions and intellect. There is no claim to wealth, social position, high-born relationships or educational advantages, which might influence men and secure position and recognition in this world. Thus there is nothing set before us that is not possible for the humblest servant of the Lord. For this reason, however much we may come short of the standard of service attained by the apostle, he comes before us, in this passage, as a wonderful example of devoted service, available as a pattern for any servant of the Lord. Looking, then, at the apostle as a pattern servant, we see, first, that Christ Himself was the great Object of his service. His great desire was to present the saints to Christ. Some may make the salvation of sinners their main object: others, with higher aim, may make the church, that is so dear to Christ, their great object: but those will rise highest in their service who make Christ their first Object. Such, indeed, will not neglect the gospel to sinners or ministry to the saints, but all their service will have in view the gratification of the desire of the heart of Christ to have His own with Him, and like Him, on that great day of the marriage of the Lamb, when He will see of the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
Thus with Christ as his great Object, the apostle had sought to win sinners for Christ by preaching the gospel, as he had done at Corinth and elsewhere (verse 7). Having been used for the conversion of sinners, with Christ still before him, he sought to attach saints to Christ (verse 2). Having drawn the saints to Christ, he sought to defend the saints from every form of evil that would beguile them from their allegiance to Christ. Further, we see that, in having Christ before him as his great Object, he was ready, in carrying out his service, to endure suffering, whether from toil and labour, from persecution and imprisonment, from perils and wants, or from cold and nakedness.
Looking at the other side of the picture, we see that, in those early times, there were "false brethren" who not only made a Christian profession, but assumed to be apostles. Such were "false apostles, deceitful workers". Nevertheless, they came to the saints with such a fair show in the flesh that they appeared as angels of light and ministers of righteousness. With satanic subtlety, these men perverted the truth by preaching "another Jesus", "another Spirit", and "another gospel" (verse 4). Furthermore, the apostle foresaw that, if the assemblies suffered these evil workers in their midst, the Christian circle would be corrupted from simplicity as to Christ, with the result that the hearts of the saints would be drawn from true allegiance to Christ, and they would become followers of those who, for their own exaltation, were drawing away disciples after themselves (verse 20). Pretending to be what they were not, they perverted the truth, corrupted the Christian profession, and exalted themselves at the expense of others.
Looking back over the ages, we see that that which had its commencement in the apostle's day has since developed into a vast system of corruption, which, while claiming apostolic succession, has perverted the truth, exalted and enriched itself at the expense of others, and persecuted the saints.
Here, then, we have the two pictures: one setting forth the true servant for our example; the other the false servants for our warning. We see the service of the true servant leading on to the great day of the marriage of the Lamb when the church, presented under the figure of "the holy city, New Jerusalem", will be seen in glory as "the Lamb's wife". We see, too, the ministers of Satan, working in the midst of Christendom, leading on to that solemn day, when, under the figure of that great city Babylon, the corrupt Christian profession will be dealt with in overwhelming judgment.
Well for us, each one, to challenge our hearts with the question, "Which city, in my life and service, am I helping to build?" Are we in our work and associations helping on the corruptions of Babylon, or have we answered to the Lord's summons, "Come out of her my people", and in separation from the corruptions of Christendom, are we seeking to serve the Lord in view of the Holy City? Many of the saints who travel the road that leads to that blest city may, like the apostle, have to pass through the fires of martyrdom, and through the waters of death, but it leads at last to the great day of the marriage of the Lamb. In the light of the exceeding and eternal weight of glory of that great day, the apostle can look upon perils and persecution, toil and labour, suffering and insults, as but light afflictions which are but for a moment (4:17).
If, we would, in our little measure, follow the example of the apostle, may it be our first desire that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith. Having Christ before us as our one Object, may we desire to win souls for Christ, attach the hearts of saints to Christ, and seek to defend one another from all that would rob us of the truth and draw our souls from Christ. And if, in any little measure, such service entails suffering and reproach, may we be able to endure, as looking on to the exceeding glory of the great day of the marriage of the Lamb.
Take Thou our hearts, and let them be
For ever closed to all but Thee;
Thy willing servants, let us wear
The seal of love for ever there.
In the preceding chapter the apostle, in contrasting himself with false brethren, refrains from all mention of special apostolic power, and refers only to manner of life and experiences possible for his opposers had they been true brethren. In this chapter he speaks of wonderful experiences that far surpass the ordinary Christian experience. Thus, in this portion of his letter, he no longer draws a contrast between himself and false brethren, who are not again mentioned, but rather compares himself with true apostles, whom he came behind in nothing (verse 11).
(Vv. 1-6). Thus he passes on to speak of "visions and revelations of the Lord". He recounts a remarkable experience which he had enjoyed fourteen years previously. The carnally-minded Christian would doubtless at once, and again and again, have boasted of such an experience. But the apostle, realising that it is not expedient to boast, had refrained from any allusion to this experience for fourteen years. He has just told us of a humiliating experience as in the body: he now tells us of a wonderful experience that had been his as "a man in Christ". The one who had known what it was to be "let down" in a basket upon earth had experienced also the immense privilege of being "caught up to the third heaven". The third heaven speaks of the dwelling-place of God. There is the atmospheric heaven, then the starry heaven, and then the third heaven wherein is the throne of God. The apostle speaks of the third heaven as paradise, indicating the blessedness of it as a scene of joy, and beauty, and glory - a garden of delights where no shadow of death will ever come. He is careful to tell us that it was not as a man in the flesh that he was caught up, but as "a man in Christ". His natural advantages as a man in the flesh, he tells us, in another epistle, he counts but filth: but in his position and privileges as a man in Christ he can rightly glory, for all the blessings of our place in Christ we owe to Christ. Caught up into paradise, he was no longer conscious of the body with its needs and weaknesses. There he had heard things of which it would be wholly out of place to speak, even to Christians while on earth and in these mortal bodies. Nevertheless, let us remember that, though we have no such miraculous experiences as being caught up into the third heaven, yet all that was revealed to the apostle when caught up belongs to the simplest believer as being "in Christ".
Hitherto the apostle has been silent as to this wonderful experience, lest, by boasting about it, he might give the impression that he was greater spiritually than he appeared by his actual life or by the reports that they had heard concerning him. What a lesson for all of us, that we beware of the pretentious, self-asserting spirit, so natural to us, that gladly seizes upon some striking experience in order to exalt ourselves, and that seeks to give others an impression of a spirituality and devotedness that we do not really possess.
(V. 7). However exalted the experiences that the apostle had enjoyed, the flesh was still in him while yet in this body. And the flesh, though showing itself in different forms, is, as to its nature, no different in an apostle than in any other man. We have to learn that in the flesh there is no good thing, that it never alters, and that in ourselves we have no strength against it. After such an experience, the flesh, even in an apostle, might work, leading to self-exaltation, by suggesting that no other apostle had been caught up to the third heaven. That he might be kept conscious of his own weakness, a thorn was sent to remind him that, while still in the body, he was entirely dependent upon the power of the Lord to keep him from the working of the flesh. The apostle does not directly say what this thorn was. Apparently it was some bodily weakness that would tend to make him contemptible, or little, in the eyes of men, and thus act as a counterpoise to these miraculous visions and revelations which might have exalted him before men. Let it be noticed, however, that the thorn was allowed, not to correct any wrong in the apostle, but rather, on the one hand, as a preventive against fleshly boasting and, on the other hand, to give him a deeper sense of his dependence upon the Lord.
(Vv. 8-10). Judging that his thorn was a hindrance to his services, the apostle beseeches the Lord three times that it might be taken from him. The Lord answers his prayer, though He does not grant his request. He is told two great truths that we all need to remember: first, the Lord's grace is sufficient to sustain in every trial; and secondly, that our weakness only becomes the occasion for manifesting His power.
Seeing, then, that this infirmity keeps the flesh from boasting, and becomes the occasion for the display of the grace and power of Christ, the apostle henceforth glories in the very weakness that he had desired to be removed. Thus he can take pleasure in the very things that are so abhorrent to us as natural men - weaknesses, insults, necessities, persecutions, and distresses - for all these things were for Christ's sake and, while manifesting the weakness of the body, they also made manifest the power of Christ, so that the apostle can say, "When I am weak, then am I strong".
(Vv. 11-15). The apostle still feels to speak of himself is folly, whether it be of visions and revelations that he enjoyed when caught up to heaven or of the distresses and weaknesses for Christ's sake that he had suffered on earth. Seeing, however, that the Corinthian saints, who should have commended him, failed to do so, he is compelled to vindicate himself. They would have to bear witness to the truth that in nothing he came behind the very chiefest apostles, though, on account of his infirmities in the flesh, he might be despised as of no account in the eyes of the world. Had he not manifested the signs of an apostle in their midst, by all endurance, accompanied with signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds?
Did they feel humbled because he had refused help from the assembly? If so, let them forgive him this wrong. If this third proposal to come to them were carried out, he would not be burdensome to them, for he would have them to learn that his heart was set, not upon their money, but on themselves. He would be amongst them as a giver and not as a receiver, even though his love was little appreciated.
(Vv. 16-18). Further, he frustrated the unhappy insinuation that, while refusing direct help, he had used others to make gain out of them for his own benefit. He had, indeed, sent Titus and another brother to minister in their midst. But had they not walked in the same spirit as the apostle and refused all benefits?
(Vv. 19-21). Moreover, the Corinthian assembly might think that, in thus speaking of himself, he was simply seeking to justify himself. To this objection he can say, with all solemnity, that he was speaking as consciously before God when he avowed that his motive was love that sought their edification. Loving them and desiring their edification, he does not hesitate to tell them of his fears. He dreaded that when he came to them he might find a condition far from his wishes, and in consequence he might have to take an attitude towards them that they would not wish. In spite of the good effect his first epistle had produced, the apostle still dreaded that, as a result of "false brethren" and "deceitful workers", of whom he had been speaking, he might find amongst them "strifes, jealousies, angers, contentions, evil speakings, whisperings, puffings up, disturbances" (N.Tn). Above all, he feared that he would be humbled by having to grieve over many who had sinned and not yet repented.
Thus, as it has often been remarked, the very chapter that opens with setting before us the very highest privileges of a Christian in paradise closes by setting before us the lowest sins into which a Christian can fall on earth. In the one case, we see the blessedness of being in Christ; in the other, the solemnity of allowing the flesh in us. Between these two extremes we see "the power of Christ" available for us, in all our weakness, against the flesh.
Having learnt something of the utter evil of the flesh, and our own weakness to resist it, how good to put ourselves, day by day, into the hands of the Lord, owning that the flesh is in us in all its unchanging evil, ready to break out at any moment into the grossest sins, and that in ourselves we have no strength to resist it. Then, having taken this ground, how good to discover that His power is available for us in all our weakness. Thus we are delivered from our own efforts to control the flesh and led to look to the Lord Jesus to keep us.
(Vv. 1, 2). The apostle closes his epistle by referring to his third proposal to pay them a second visit. Already he has told them that his second proposal to visit them had been given up in order to spare them, as he had no wish to come in heaviness of spirit (2:1,2). While owning the good effect of his first letter on the assembly as a whole (chapter 2), he still fears there are many who have not repented of their sins. If he finds such when he comes again, and their sin is fully confirmed "in the mouth of two or three witnesses", he will not spare them.
(Vv. 3-6). Apparently, however, there were some who called in question the apostle's authority to deal with any confusion and evil in their midst. They asked for a proof that Christ was really speaking through him. Before answering this objection, the apostle, in a parenthesis extending from the second clause of verse 3 to the end of verse 4, reminds them that, though they might take advantage of his infirmities to charge him with weakness, no such charge could be brought against Christ, Who, he says, "is powerful among you" (N.Tn). Truly, He was crucified in weakness, yet, as the risen and glorified Man, He lives by the power of God. As to Paul's circumstances, he was weak in connection with a rejected Christ on earth; but by the power of God he lived with Christ, and that power had been expressed through the apostle toward them.
Having in this parenthesis reminded them of the source of all real spiritual power, he takes up the challenge of some as to whether Christ was speaking in him. This was virtually a challenge as to whether he was really a Christian. In answer to this the apostle says, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves". If they questioned that Christ was in him, let them look to themselves as to whether Christ was in them, for, if not, they were reprobates - cast out and good for nothing. That they were in the faith through Paul's preaching should have been an unanswerable proof that Christ had spoken through him. There is no suggestion in the apostle's words that the Christian is to look within in order to assure himself that he is a Christian. It is the outward look to Christ risen that gives the inward peace, and the word of God that gives assurance. When the Lord appeared among His disciples on the day of the resurrection, He found them troubled by thoughts arising in their hearts. At once He dispels their fears by directing their gaze to Himself. He says, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself" (Luke 24:36-40). Looking within filled them with doubts and fears; looking without at their risen Lord, they at once saw in His hands and His feet the proofs that He had died for them, and that He was risen, and this brought peace and joy into their hearts.
When the apostle tells these saints to examine themselves as to whether they be in the faith, he is saying as it were, "Because of my infirmities you have wrongly raised a question as to whether Christ be in me; but apply this question to yourselves, and you will see how wrong it is". He trusted that, having learnt the folly of their question, they would realise that he was no reprobate.
(V. 7). His prayer to God was that they might be kept from evil practice, not simply to commend the apostle who had been used to their conversion, but that by their acting honestly there would be a proof to the world that they were no reprobates, however much the world might deprecate him.
(Vv. 8, 9). However, in spite of what men might say as to the apostle, nothing will prevail against the truth. Go against the truth and we shall lose our power. We are strong only as we stand for the truth, whether it be the truth concerning Christ or the truth concerning His people. The apostle was, however, content to be weak as to his infirmities if it led to their being strong in standing for the truth, for he sincerely desired their "perfecting" (N.Tn) in the complete knowledge of Christianity and the mind of the Lord.
(V. 10). He had written these things, being absent, in the hope that when he visited them there would be no occasion for him to use sharpness, according to the power given to him by the Lord for their edification, and not for their overthrow. Seeing we have the flesh in us, how careful we need to be that, if the necessity to use sharpness arises, it is not used in fleshly malice, seeking to bring about the overthrow of a brother.
(Vv. 11-14). In his closing salutations the apostle desires that these saints may rejoice (N.Tn). Whatever failure may have marked them, they can still rejoice in the Lord. Moreover, he desires that they may be perfect, fully answering to the Lord's mind for them. In spite of all they had to meet from false teachers, let them be encouraged to press on with open mind and in peace. Then, indeed, they would find that the God of love and peace would be with them. Let the world's method of greeting be used in holiness. The saints with Paul joined with him in sending their salutation. He closes with the benediction that so blessedly desires that the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the communion that flows from the Holy Spirit working in us, may be with them.