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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in order to deal with problems that had arisen in the church at Corinth, but it did not completely dispel those problems. Indeed it would seem that he soon learned that things were worse than he had thought. Opposition to the Apostle persisted and Paul's critics, especially seemingly one prominent one, continued to speak out against him in the church. One main issue was Paul's apostolic authority. His critics were claiming that their authority was equal to Paul's, or even that he had no authority at all.
News of these continuing problems in Corinth reached Paul in Ephesus during his prolonged stay there during his third missionary journey. He then decided to make a brief visit to Corinth. However his efforts to resolve the conflicts appear to have fallen on deaf ears (2.1; 12.14; 13.1-2). Indeed he apparently suffered insults which caused him to lose face during that visit (2.5-8; 7.12). Consequently the visit was very hurtful, not least because he saw it as a defeat for the full truth of the Gospel.
So he returned to Ephesus where, in spite of determined opposition, things were flourishing. His next step in dealing with the situation in Corinth was to send Titus , with a companion, bearing from Ephesus a severe letter which Paul had compiled (2.3-4; 7.8-12; 12.18). Paul apparently directed this letter, which is now lost, at the parties opposed to him, and particularly at their leadership. Some commentators believe that 2 Corinthians 10-13 contains part of this letter, but there are good grounds for doubting this.
Paul evidently hoped to hear from Titus while still in Ephesus. However, persecution made it expedient for Paul to leave there earlier than he had expected (Acts 20.1), and he eventually found an open door for the gospel in Troas to the north. But eager to meet Titus, who was taking the land route from Corinth back to Ephesus, Paul decided to leave Troas and moved west into Macedonia (2.12-13). There Titus met him and his report was encouraging (7.6-16). A majority of the church had responded to Paul's words and the church had disciplined the troublemakers (2.5-11), although this does not mean that all the problems described in 1 Corinthians have been put right (12.20-21).
But some in the church still refused to acknowledge Paul's authority over them. He was still being accused of fickleness (1.17-24); he was aware of a still unwilling minority (2.6); there were still suggestions that he was corrupting the word of God (2.17); there were still some who rejected his teaching (4.2-5); there were still those who gloried in appearance and not in heart (i.e. preferring his opponents to him for the wrong reasons - 5.12), thus demonstrating that there were still those who stood in opposition to him. And there were still some who were compromising with idols (6.14-18).
It is possibly to these that 10.1-13.10 are directed, but it may be that we are also to see that as arising because of the unexpected arrival of visitors from elsewhere (whom he describes as ‘pseudo-apostles’) who again sought to undermine his position. News of this latter as he came close to ending his letter may well have caused this final powerfully expressed end to his letter, as the fears, which had been quelled, again began to mount.
So Paul had cause to rejoice at the change of heart of the majority, and 2 Corinthians is to quite some extent a letter of rejoicing, but there was still much that required putting right and it is rejoicing with a sharp edge. Serious things have to be said by him, coming to their climax in the final chapters.
Thus his concern in respect of the unrepentant minority, his continued concern over the general state of the church, his desire to oversee for the despatch of the money the Corinthians had begun to collect for their poorer brethren in Jerusalem (compare 1 Corinthians 16.1), and possibly the sudden news of dangerous opponents who had arrived in Corinth, were all factors to be taken into account, and these affected the contents of 2 Corinthians, which was written from Macedonia in or around 56 AD.
Opening Greeting (1.1-2).
1.1 ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia.’
Having again established his reputation in Corinth Paul addresses the believers as ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God.’ He is, he says, a directly God-appointed ‘Apostle of Christ Jesus’, chosen as such from birth and called by God in accordance with His will (Galatians 1.15). For a similar greeting compare Ephesians 1.1; Colossians 1.1; 1 Timothy 1.1; 2 Timothy 1.1. It is noteworthy that when he includes others in his greeting, and he does not separately cite the fact that he is an Apostle, no title is ever used, unless we consider the word ‘bondmen’ (douloi) (Philippians 1.1) to be a title. Apostleship was unique, and gave unique authority. The others were ‘brothers’.
This introduction in 2 Corinthians was a fairly standard introduction, and did not introduce any special further comment. He clearly felt that it was all that needed to be said. Later in the letter he will defend his right to the title to the hilt, but it seems that he did not feel it necessary at this stage.
‘An Apostle of Jesus Christ.’ This phrase primarily, of course, referred to the Apostles appointed by Jesus (and named ‘Apostles’ by Jesus - Luke 6.13), ‘the twelve’ (John 20.24; Acts 6.2; 1 Corinthians 15.5), who had directly received revelation from Jesus and were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1.22; 1 Corinthians 15.5). They had come to include James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1.19), who possibly replaced the martyred James (Acts 12.2 with Galatians 2.9) as Matthias replaced Judas (Acts 1.10-26).
In Acts the twelve are clearly distinguished as unique. When writing about those who met in the Jerusalem church to make vital decisions, the leaders apart from the Apostles are called ‘the elders’, and the Apostles are mentioned separately. Note the phrase ‘the Apostles and the Elders’ (e.g. Acts 15.2, 4, 9, 22, 23), even though the Apostles could also be called Elders (1 Peter 5.1; 2 John 1.1; 3 John 1.1). The ‘Elders’ are those usually responsible for churches (Acts 14.23; 20.17). Thus Paul, by calling himself an Apostle here, sets himself alongside the twelve as having this unique position. Like them he too claimed to be a primary source of direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1.12), and was recognised as such by the twelve (Galatians 2.7-9). And it is clear that he looked on his calling to Apostleship (Romans 11.13; 1 Corinthians 9.1) as being on a par with, and as personal as, theirs (Galatians 1.16-17).
‘Apostolos’, an apostle, is derived from apostellein, (to send forth,) and originally signified literally a messenger. The term was employed by earlier classical writers to denote the commander of an expedition, or a delegate, or an ambassador (see Herodotus, 5. 38), but its use in this way was later rare as it came to have a technical meaning referring to ‘the fleet’, and possibly also the fleet’s admiral. It may be that Jesus spoke with a sense of humour when he named the fishermen ‘Apostles’ using this term, seeing them as the future ‘catchers of men’ (although it would require that He gave the title in Greek. This is not, however, impossible. They were bi-lingual).
In the New Testament, apart from its use of the Apostles, it is also employed in a more general non-technical sense to denote important messengers sent out by churches on God’s service (see Luke 11.49; 2 Corinthians 8.23; Philippians 2.25; 1 Thessalonians 2.6), but presumably the only authority it then gives is their authority as messengers of whoever sent them, and it is nowhere suggested that it is permanent. And in one instance it is applied to Christ Himself, as the One sent forth from God (Hebrews 3.1). But in the main it is reserved for the twelve (including James, the Lord’s brother), and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14.4, 14). Paul certainly saw it as giving him a recognised authority direct from Jesus Christ. He saw himself, along with the twelve, as being specifically and personally commissioned by Jesus.
‘Through the will of God.’ This solemn statement stresses the importance of his office. He declares that it is through the sovereign will of the eternal God that he has been so appointed. He is deliberately emphasising that he was called as an Apostle by the direct will and purpose of God, so underlining that he has been chosen out within God’s specific purposes. He no doubt intended them to see this as being evidenced by his experience on the Road to Damascus, where God had set him apart in a unique way through the appearance to him of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling him to a unique ministry among the Gentiles. He wanted them to know that he spoke with maximum authority.
But in the light of what comes later in the letter we may probably also see this ‘through the will of God’ as in direct contrast to those who ‘transformed themselves into the Apostles of Christ’ (11.13), those who ‘call themselves Apostles and are not’ (Revelation 2.2), appointed by themselves and not by the will of God. He wants to stress that, in contrast to theirs, his Apostleship is through the will of God.
With him in his greeting he includes Timothy, who is with him at the time, who is simply ‘our brother’. This mention was because they knew of Timothy from an earlier letter (1 Corinthians 16.10), and, if his proposed visit had ever taken place, actually knew him personally. It also had the purpose of establishing Timothy as one who worked with him and could be relied on. The intention was that it would give him authority if ever he again went to Corinth on Paul’s behalf.
‘To the church of God which is at Corinth.’ This covers all the Christians in Corinth no matter which gathering they attended. The ‘church’ is the sum of the believers. ‘Church of God’ is equivalent to ‘all the saints (sanctified ones)’. That it is ‘of God’ confirms that they are seen as belonging to God and therefore ‘sanctified’ (set apart for a holy purpose) to Him (1 Corinthians 1.2).
‘With all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia.’ The letter is intended to go throughout Achaia. This was probably intended to indicate a local area around Corinth, based on ancient usage, rather than the larger Achaia of Paul’s day. The ancient usage was probably preserved in the area itself as such usages tend to be. The title ‘saints’ is taken from the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 33.3; 1 Samuel 2.9; 2 Chronicles 6.41; Psalms (20 times); Daniel (4 times)) and confirms that the church was seen as the new Israel (compare Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.12-22; Romans 11.13-24). God’s people are God’s ‘holy ones’, God’s separated ones, sanctified (set apart for God) in Christ Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 1.2).
1.2 ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Grace’ and ‘peace’ were the two terms used in greetings in Paul’s world, the former by Gentiles the latter by Jews. But Paul, while taking them over, transforms them and imbues them with new meaning. It is noteworthy that with him ‘grace’ always precedes ‘peace’, for peace results from God’s ‘freely shown, unmerited favour’.
‘Grace to you.’ Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us and acting towards us in undeserved love and favour, and this is what is signified by grace. It is God acting towards us in continual saving power in spite of our undeserving. Thus Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he desires for them only that they enjoy the continued experience of the unmerited and compassionate favour of God working to bring about their full salvation.
‘And peace.’ Peace results from grace, for it is through God’s grace that we find peace. But this kind of peace is also God’s gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5.1) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. On the other hand, however much things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4.7). And it is this that Paul wished for, and prayed for, on behalf of the Corinthians.
‘From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ What a combined source of power and grace. This continual linking of the name of our ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ with ‘God the Father’ in perfect equality again demonstrates Paul’s view of Christ (1 Corinthians 1.3; Galatians 1.3; Ephesians 1.2; Philippians 1.2 and often, and contrast Colossians 1.2). This is especially significant as ‘Lord’ (kurios) was the word used by the Greek translators to render the name of God, Yahweh. The two were one in equality and essence.
‘From God our Father.’ God is Father as the Lord of creation (James 1.17), the Father after Whom ‘every fatherhood in Heaven and earth is named’ (Ephesians 3.15), and especially as Father to those who are in Christ through the Spirit and thus called His true ‘sons’ (Galatians 3.26; 4.4-7; Romans 8.14-17; Ephesians 1.5). The use of ‘our’ lays stress on the third. They are sons and daughters of God.
‘And The Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is a powerful combination. ‘The Lord’ in context with God the Father indicates sovereignty and creativity. It carries within it the idea of ‘the Lord’ (Yahweh) of the Old Testament (compare Philippians 2.9-11). There is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ in contrast with many so-called ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ (1 Corinthians 8.6).
The name ‘Jesus’ brings us specifically to His manhood. This ‘Lord’ was One Who had become a man on earth, Who had lived among men and whom many could testify to knowing. They had seen Him, watched Him, handled Him, and touched Him (1 John 1.1). The Word (the eternal One through Whom God spoke) was made flesh (John 1.14).
The term ‘Christ’ emphasises both His mission as sent by God, and His resurrection and glorification. He had been promised from of old. He had been ‘anointed’ (Luke 4.18; Acts 4.27; 10.38), that is specifically set apart for His unique purpose. He had been raised from the dead and established as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36), restored to the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 17.5). The whole name sums up the totality of what He is.
God Both Afflicts And Comforts All Who Are His For Their Salvation (1.3-11).
The verses that follow lay the foundation of what he will say throughout the letter. At first sight they might appear to contain simply a message of comfort and strengthening in the face of suffering. And if it were so it would be an important message. And it would especially bring out that Paul and his fellow-workers were appointed as strengtheners of the churches. But deeper consideration brings out that it very much has reference to the ‘salvation’ that God has brought in ‘the last days’ (that is, the days following the coming and death and resurrection of Jesus, which were seen as the final days before the end), and the need in the light of it to share in the sufferings of Christ for the fulfilling of His purposes, and to be kept by God in the right way to the end.
In LXX ‘comfort’ (encourage, strengthen) is a word directly connected with the coming in of the last days, and of God’s deliverance. When those come God will comfort (encourage, strengthen) His people (LXX - Isaiah 35.4; 40.1-2, 11; 41.27; 49.10,13; 51.3, 12; 61.2; 66.12-13 compare Exodus 15.13; Psalm 126.1). This is why Jesus called the Holy Spirit ‘the Comforter’ (John 14.16; 26; 15.26; 16.7). And His ‘mercies’ as mentioned here very much have in mind His great salvation (verse 6) and deliverance (verse 10), the resurrection from the dead (verse 9), and the coming day of our Lord Jesus (verse 14). And these constantly lie in the background to this passage. So all he says here has these ideas in mind and leads up to them. His final concern for the Corinthians is not so much their comfort in suffering, although that is important to him, but their salvation through it, although their comfort and encouragement play an important part within that. It is about comfort and encouragement and strengthening with a view to final deliverance.
1.3-5 ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ.’
The connection of the emphasis on ‘comfort’ (exhortation, strengthening) with the final salvation comes out strongly in its connection here with the sufferings of Christ. The significance of ‘the sufferings of Christ’ as connected with His people is that they are sufferings borne with the final end in view, as part of the working out of salvation. In playing their part in the salvation of God’s chosen ones His people will suffer as He suffered throughout His life on earth (John 15.20; 16.2). They will suffer with Him in the purposes of salvation (Colossians 1.24; 1 Peter 4.12-13; Philippians 3.10-11; 2 Timothy 3.12 compare Matthew 5.10-12), and Christ will suffer along with them (Acts 9.5), and they will be comforted.
Much of the letter will in fact be speaking of the sufferings of Christ as known by those who serve Him. Paul sees them as very much a sign of his Apostleship. God’s ways are carried on through suffering, as they have ever been. Moses suffered. The prophets suffered. Jesus Christ Himself suffered. And He had warned His Apostles that they too would suffer (John 15.18-21; 16.2-3, 33). And now Paul and his fellow-workers suffer. This in itself is confirmation that they are in line with those previous men of God (contrary to the view of some of his opponents in Corinth)
So this introduction majors on comfort and encouragement in the face of the affliction that they are all facing up to for Christ’s sake in the course of salvation, leading up to final salvation. Behind the words lies the fact that the comfort is needed because their sufferings and afflictions arise in the course of their faith, and in the course of the ongoing purposes of God. As they have their part in the extension of God’s Kingly Rule in Christ, so they are having their part in the sufferings of Christ.
To the early church the ‘sufferings of Christ’ were twofold. Firstly were the unique sufferings of Christ necessary for our salvation, what we might call His atoning sufferings, in which His people could have no part except to receive the benefit of them. Christ suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3.18; Hebrews 9.26; 13.12 compare Luke 22.15; 1 Peter 1.11). But interestingly from this point of view, especially in view of Isaiah 53, the emphasis in Paul is more on the atoning significance of His death than on His sufferings. He dose not stress how much He suffered. And Peter here also really means ‘suffered in death’ (1 Peter 3.19; compare Hebrews 2.9). It was His final suffering in death that atoned, not His general sufferings.
And then, secondly, there were the general sufferings of Christ, which taught Him obedience (Hebrews 5.8), and included the sufferings of His people for His sake (Acts 9.4; 1 Peter 4.13, 19; Romans 8.17; Philippians 3.10), which taught them the same (Romans 5.3-5). These sufferings were a necessary part of His ministry (Luke 17.25) and of the ministry of the church (Philippians 1.29; 2 Timothy 2.12; 3.12). Suffering was seen as very much a necessary part of the ongoing carrying forward of God’s purposes, as Paul was very much aware, for an essential part of his call was that he would suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 9.16). These were ‘the sufferings of Christ’ which abounded towards him.
Paul will himself in this letter thus declare that he has been enduring much affliction, including severe affliction in Ephesus, and the affliction that had come directly from the attitudes of the Corinthian church, but he assures them that he recognises that this affliction is for his good and theirs, for it teaches him important lessons and enables him also to encourage and comfort those who are afflicted, and it is his part in the eschatological sufferings. (And the same is true of the affliction he has caused for the Corinthians by his earlier severe letter, probably one which followed 1 Corinthians but preceded this one but is now lost. This has strengthened them too).
‘‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.’ In his letters, after his initial greeting, Paul regularly changes what follows to suit particular cases. And the liturgical nature of some of these introductions should be noted. The letter is to be read in the church and Paul wants it to be a part of their worship. For a similar blessing compare Ephesians 1.3; 1 Peter 1.3. He speaks like this because prior to hearing his letter read he wants their hearts to be upraised in praise and thanksgiving as they consider God the Father in the greatness of His mercies, and especially in His sending of our Lord Jesus Christ, to suffer on our behalf (verse 5). After all that is linked closely with his purpose in life.
‘Blessed be God’ was a liturgical phrase found both in synagogue worship and in the worship of the Qumran community. So Paul adapts what to him is a well known phrase, for Christian use. ‘Father of mercies’ also echoes the ‘God of mercies’ at Qumran and ‘merciful Father’ of the synagogues, but again it is seemingly adapted. The Father is both merciful, and the source of all mercies as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. His mercies abound towards His own, especially though His saving purposes and in the giving of His Son. Thus He is also the God of all comfort.
‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.’ In this is summed up God’s saving purposes. God is the Father of the One Who has come to save, our Lord (the One Who is over all), Jesus (which means Yahweh is salvation) Christ (God’s anointed and sent One). He is the Father of mercies, of all the mercies of salvation history, especially as revealed in the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.17-18). He is the God of all comfort, the One Who brings comfort, encouragement and strengthening to those who are suffering in accordance with His plan and necessary strategy of salvation (Isaiah 40.1-2, 31).
‘And God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God.’ He now applies the general to the particular. As well as being the Father of mercies, this gracious God is also the God of all comfort (encouragement, strengthening). The word is from the same root as that used of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (Helper, Encourager) by Jesus in John 14-16. God comes alongside to comfort, strengthen and encourage to the ultimate degree.
We should note again that ‘comfort’ is a prophetic word pointing towards the fulfilment of God’s purposes. It is found for example in Isaiah 40.1; 51.3, 12, 19. (See also references above). So Paul is stressing that the ‘end of the ages’ is here. The God of comfort is at work in bringing about His promised comfort and deliverance to those who suffer for His name’s sake. As God carries forward His purposes to the end He continually encourages and ‘comforts’ His people.
Thus, says Paul, aware of his part in end of the age activities, God comforts us (he and his fellow-workers) in our trials, and in all afflictions that we have to face. This not only strengthens us and brings home to us the love of God (Romans 5.1-5), but it also enables us to encourage and strengthen others, because of the encouragement He has given us, and results in our, and their, final salvation. Without the afflictions that they faced they would be in no position to comfort others who suffered, in a world where suffering was often commonplace. Nor would the process of salvation be carried through. Here we use ‘salvation’ in its fullest sense of the whole process of salvation.
Note the plural ‘us’. Paul is not just thinking of his own afflictions, or even of his and Timothy’s. He is aware of others who face what he does, as they minister for Christ. The ‘us’ primarily means him and his compatriots, and those who labour truly as they do, as they carry forward their ministry in the face of opposition and hatred. It also therefore includes us when we too carry forward that ministry in our lives. But he is, for example, also aware of how his severe letter to the Corinthians must have made them suffer too (7.8). They too are workers together with Christ. And the more a Christian gives such comfort and encouragement to others, the more God will give it to him, enabling him to do so even more.
‘For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ.’ For as he and his fellow-workers have been called by Christ to take up the cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9.23), so do sufferings and affliction abound towards them, and so through Christ does His comfort also abound towards them. As His people they have been crucified with Him, and have been united with Him in His death and resurrection (Galatians 2.20; Romans 6.5), and they must therefore expect to endure sufferings for His sake. But they are also equally certain of His comfort, of His sustaining, of His encouragement. This affliction includes threats and persecutions and reproach, as well as the more subtle attacks of the Enemy. But the more these abound towards them, the more they know of God’s comfort and encouragement through Christ.
For Paul above all men was very much aware that ‘the sufferings of Christ’ went far beyond what He had suffered at the cross, great though those were, for he constantly remembered how on the Damascus Road Jesus had said to him, ‘Why do you persecute Me?’ (Acts 9.4-5). He himself had helped to make those sufferings worse. This memory constantly brought home to him that all the sufferings and afflictions which came on those who spread forth His word were part of Christ’s sufferings. They were the expected ‘Messianic sufferings’ which would bring in the final hope. To that end not only do His servants suffer, but He suffers with His servants. And as these sufferings abounded towards them so they knew that God’s encouragement and comfort would also abound towards them through Christ.
We too if we are faithful to Christ will at times have to endure affliction in one way or another, sharing in His sufferings, but when we do, if we do it in line with His saving purposes, we too may be sure that God will abound towards us in comfort and encouragement in the midst of those trials, for to such He is the God of all comfort.
1.6-7 ‘But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which he works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer, and our hope for you is steadfast (firm, gilt-edged), knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort.’
It was one of the accusations of Paul’s opponents that he was a weak and suffering figure. To them this did not accord with the idea that he was God’s chosen representative. Rather they considered that as such a representative of God he should be reigning and triumphant (compare 1 Corinthians 4.8). So, they argued, he was clearly not an Apostle. But Paul here draws attention to the fact that as Christ has suffered so will His true servants suffer, for it is through such suffering that God’s purposes will come to fulfilment. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (12.9). Therefore, rather than it showing him as lacking in God’s eyes, it reveals him as a true Apostle of God.
For those who serve God in ministry will go through differing experiences. Sometimes affliction will abound. This is a necessary part of them being able to participate in the encouragement and salvation of His people. And sometimes comfort will abound. God gives them both experiences so that they might be better fitted to bring help and blessing and comfort and salvation to others. But in both cases, whether of suffering or of comfort, it will be so that through their ministry God will work, through the patient endurance by His people of similar sufferings, towards their final comfort and salvation.
So he and his fellow-workers can through their sufferings and through God’s working, bring comfort, encouragement and saving deliverance to God’s people, as God’s people too face the similar sufferings and afflictions which are inherent in serving Christ. For all who are Christ’s must suffer in one way or another (2 Timothy 3.12; 1 Peter 4.12-14), and Paul is sure that in doing so they will also experience God’s comfort and strength, and salvation, both during it and as its final consequence.
‘As you are partakers of the sufferings.’ The Corinthian church was no exception. They too would suffer trauma and afflictions. They should therefore recognise that they are one with the suffering church, and that such sufferings are a sign of the carrying forward of God’s final purposes, and of their partaking in Christ’ saving work.
The first century church was necessarily a suffering church, and the next three hundred years would at times compound those sufferings, but through it God would establish them and keep them pure. In the words of Tertullian, the blood of the martyrs would be the seed of the church. And through it all God would be their strength and comfort. And through the ages His people have suffered in many ways, sometimes external, sometimes internal, as they have taken forward God’s purposes, and they too have experienced His ‘comfort’.
‘It is for your comfort and salvation.’ This latter does not infer, of course, that the sufferings of God’s ministers are in any way atoning. For full salvation consists of more than just atonement. Atonement is the foundation and the necessary beginning of salvation. And that was what Christ accomplished, sufficiently and totally (Hebrews 10.14). Without it there could be no salvation, and it must necessarily continue to be applied to the end (1 John 1.7), but ‘salvation’ is also that whole process which is carried on from when we first believe in Christ through to our finally being presented before Him holy and without blemish, and those who minister to us are part of that process. And in order that this process may succeed, His servants must endure the sufferings which are a necessary part of that process, as must we.
For God’s saving work involves them in participating in Christ’s sufferings. As Paul says boldly elsewhere, they ‘fill up that which is behind in the sufferings of Christ’ (Colossians 1.24). Christ’s sufferings obtained full atonement and satisfaction for the sins of the world. They were completely sufficient for that. Nothing else is required. The sufferings of His people as they serve Him are a part of the work of ensuring that the efficacy of those sufferings are applied to all Whom He has chosen, with the result that God works within them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). Those who are engaged in battle must expect their battle wounds.
‘Our hope for you is steadfast (firm, gilt-edged).’ In spite of his afflictions Paul has no doubts. He is fully confident and certain. God has issued a guilt-edged promise, and that is the basis of his hope. So Paul knows that just as he suffers they will suffer, but he knows too that it will be for their final comfort and salvation.
We today do not fully understand these words, for we see ministers of God living in luxury, and we too endure so little. Perhaps we should stop and consider that it may be that which explains why we are so ineffective. Not that we should seek suffering. We should never do that. Jesus warned us that we must pray, ‘deliver us from testing and trial’. To do anything else is to be presumptuous. (Those who deliberately sought martyrdom were often those who failed in the end). But our ‘suffering’ can constitute that which we willingly sacrifice for the cause of Christ, and the price we pay in labouring faithfully in His service, and the attacks that we will inevitably face from the Enemy and from sinners if we are live faithfully and speak faithfully. And if we were willing to face up to more of the cost perhaps there might be more of the benefit.
For then we would also find that we have at times to face different afflictions in different ways, for we can be sure that if we serve Christ Satan will not leave us alone for long, and while sinners may approve of us for a time, it will not be long before we cross them because we stand firm to God’s demands, with the result that they will suddenly turn sour. So we must not expect that the way will be easy. We too will at times face afflictions and trials. But in the midst of them we may rejoice in that we in some small way thereby share the sufferings of Christ, and will find God’s comfort and encouragement abounding in the midst of our afflictions so that we too will have our part in the salvation by God of His people.
1.8 ‘For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life.’
Paul now goes on to illustrate this by telling the Corinthians about his more recent difficult experiences. He will not hide from them the fact of his weakness and suffering. It is part of God’s saving activity. In his activities in Asia he and his fellow-workers had been constantly afflicted and heavily weighed down, almost beyond endurance. It had been outside their control (beyond our power), and it had reached such a stage that he and his compatriots had despaired even of life.
1.9 ‘Yes, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.’
Indeed they had felt themselves under sentence of death, and had accepted the fact that they were probably going to die, but he recognised that this had happened so that they might not trust in themselves, but in God Who raises the dead. It had forced them to face up to what the Gospel was all about. And so they had faced up to death, looking it in the face, accepting its inevitability, and yet willingly continuing on towards it, and they had done it because they believed in the God ‘Who raises the dead’ (compare 4.14; Romans 4.17).
What this experience was of which Paul was speaking we do not know. It may have been a severe bout of illness which appeared at first mortal, from which he was raised as one dead, although in that case we would expect his words to be in the singular, or it may be the same situation that made him speak of ‘fighting beasts at Ephesus’ (1 Corinthians 15.32), the opposition of violent men, or it may be that they had been caught up in mob violence time and again and had only just escaped with their lives, or it may be that they were under threat from the authorities. Acts, however, gives us no indication of such a situation, and there the authorities appear as reasonable men. Whatever it was it seemed to have passed.
1.10 ‘Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver. On whom we have set our hope that he will also yet deliver us.’
This verse contains a number of significant points. It speaks of ‘so great a death’, which in the light of Paul’s continued use of ‘death’ as the prime way of signifying man’s final fate, must surely have special significance. It speaks of ‘our hope’, a thought that in Paul is regularly looking forward to salvation and deliverance and Christ’s coming. It depicts the past, the near future and the far future as covering the whole of life until that day. (To make ‘he will deliver us, on whom we have set our hope that he will yet deliver us’ signify merely a hope of escaping a violent death in the future seems a little trite). And it follows immediately a reference to the supreme fact of ‘God Who raises the dead’. This must surely suggest therefore that we are to look here beyond the simple idea of death as depicted in verses 8-9, which to Paul was something he regularly faced, to something of more permanent significance.
So we must first ask, why does he speak here of ‘so great a death’ and of ‘setting his hope’? Surely death is death, whether it be by illness, drowning, execution or violent men. One death is not greater than another. This in itself alerts us to the fact that there are two possible ways of looking at these words. One way is to see them as arising directly from the idea of ‘God Who raises the dead’, and thus delivers from ‘the great death’, an idea which we may see as making him briefly digress in order to glory in the fact of full salvation, past, present and future, as he considers the glorious truth of total deliverance from ‘death’, even ‘so great a death’. And the other which sees him as going well over the top in his thoughts about his own vulnerability, and declaring confidently that God will preserve his life, not only yesterday and tomorrow, but into the distant future. (In which case some of his later protestations about death as though it were constantly imminent seem a little exaggerated. Paul does not elsewhere give the impression of great invulnerability).
The first alternative then is that as he considers that greatest of all triumphs, God as the One Who ‘raises the dead’, it calls to mind that even greater deliverance than his recent deliverance from mere earthly death, a deliverance from the even ‘greater’ death, from Death the great enemy itself (1 Corinthians 15.26, 5-57), by the resurrecting God, a death from which God has delivered him through his participation in the resurrection of Christ, and would continue to deliver him, which then leads on to him triumphing in the fullness of salvation.
For in the end to Paul it is death that is the great enemy. Not physical death, but death in all its finality. That is what he surely sees as ‘so great a death’. In which case we may see his words here as a typical Pauline flight into a declaration of triumph at the certainty of the final defeat of that death, of the final deliverance from ‘so great a death’, brought to mind in the light of their recent experiences of facing and escaping physical death.
That would mean that we are here to see him as declaring in awe and gratitude that He Who raises the dead had indeed also acted on their behalf in an even greater way than delivering them from a momentary physical death. He had delivered them from an even greater death (‘so great a death’) through the cross, the eternal death that is the wages of sin (Romans 6.23), giving them life from the dead when they believed in Him (4.10-11; 6.9; Romans 6.4), and that He would continue to deliver them as they walk with Him, and that he has ‘set his hope’ on the fact that God will finally deliver them in the end by the final triumphant resurrection (4.14; Romans 6.5-10). For this is what is involved in the Christian hope, the knowledge of having been delivered from ‘death’, the need for continual recognition of our deliverance from death, and the certainty of having a glorious part in the coming ‘day of our Lord Jesus’ (verse 14), with the joyful expectancy of the resurrection from the dead or its living equivalent (1 Corinthians 15.52) when death will have been finally defeated (1 Corinthians 15.26).
For we must remember that to Paul all death was ever a reminder of the greater death that was the last enemy, the enemy which was defeated at the resurrection and would finally be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15.26). He ever thought of man’s final fate as ‘death’ (Romans 1.32; 5.10-21; 6.23 compare 2 Timothy 1.10). (He never speaks of Hades or Gehenna). Deliverance from this ‘death’ was what the cross and resurrection was all about. It was a foe which sought to gain victory and, in those who belonged to Christ, finally failed (1 Corinthians 15.55). And behind it lay the dark figure of Satan (compare Hebrews 2.14). This was surely the ‘so great a death’.
For in all that he is saying here Paul is constantly aware of the great saving purposes of God (compare 7.10), and as we have seen already (verses 5-7 in general but specifically verse 6), it is ever in the background and especially so earlier in this passage. We have already noted the sense of the ‘end of the age’ apparent in his references to God’s ‘comforting’ of His people, in the light of Isaiah 40.1, and to the process of salvation as ‘the sufferings of Christ’ abounded towards them (verse 5), along with his sudden introduction of the idea of ‘salvation’ in verse 6, all lying behind the words he speaks, and this is further apparent in verse 14 in his reference to ‘the day of our Lord Jesus’, which demonstrates that the glory of God’s eschatological deliverance is lying behind all he is saying. What more likely then that he should burst into praise in this way?
For this idea of being ‘delivered’ (‘ruomai) soteriologically compare Colossians 1.13, ‘delivered out of the power of darkness’ (in the past), and 1 Thessalonians 1.10, ‘Who delivers us from the wrath to come’ (in the future). Compare also Romans 7.24, ‘who shall deliver me from this body of death (body which deserves death and is dying)?’. The Gospel not only contains the idea of ‘salvation’ but of ‘deliverance’.
This would seem to be confirmed by his reference to ‘set our hope’. This idea of ‘hope’ regularly refers to the expectation of salvation and deliverance and of Christ’s coming (compare especially 1 Timothy 4.10; see also 1 Corinthians 13.13; 15.19). In the light of this New Testament usage can we really see it as an expression he would use merely in relation to facing death in the future? Was he really just hoping not to die? Surely his hope was something that went beyond this life (1 Corinthians 15.19). To him the facing of death in the normal sense was a commonplace experience. And even something to be desired (Philippians 1.23). And added to this is the fact that we know of no reason why Paul should have had such a portent about a continual facing of death in the future, other than that which he was used to and treated lightly (1 Corinthians 4.9; Romans 8.36). He even exults in it (4.10-12). Would he then here give deliverance from it quite such prominence and importance?
On the other hand it must be admitted that most do see it as referring to the fact that they were aware that they had been marvellously saved from a particularly unpleasant death and that this situation of facing such a death was weighing heavily on them, so that they were trusting Him for continual deliverance on and on into the future. They had been delivered out of the violent death they faced, they were sure that God would continue in the same way to deliver them from such a death which would constantly face them, and indeed they had set their hope on the fact that He would go on and on delivering them, presumably until their time was come.
But in the light of Paul’s desire to depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1.23) and the fact that he believed that to die was gain (Philippians 1.21) this interpretation would seem to make the verse go rather over the top (some good manuscripts exclude ‘and will deliver’, possibly for this reason). Would Paul really have been so overwhelmed at the thought of facing death, something which he had faced many times, and even looked forward to, that he would write about it in this extended and exaggerated way even to the extent of speaking of escape from it as his ‘hope’? The only possible reason for such a deep concern might be that he was afraid of what effect his death might have on the progress of the Gospel, but that would have been a slight on God’s sovereign power. He knew as well as any that no man is indispensable, even though he was aware of his value to the church (Philippians 1.24).
We might also ask, would Paul have seen this mere deliverance from earthly death in terms of the ‘raising of the dead’, unless it was leading on to a declaration of the greater hope. Jewish writers did so, but while they believed in the resurrection, they did not have the great vision of the resurrection and the Christian’s triumph that Paul had (1 Corinthians 15).
And we might add that if the possibility of constant death had so deeply weighed on him at this time for so long a period is it likely that we would receive no hint of it from Luke in Acts, who would surely have known about the events he had in mind if they were so serious and long lasting.
So we might rather feel that the earlier part of the passage has been building up to such a triumphant statement of God’s saving purposes, which he has now released. If it is seen like that we have here the whole sweep of God’s purposes revealed, as guaranteed by His being the Raiser from the dead, salvation in the past from ‘so great a death’ accomplished once and for all as they trusted in Christ and were delivered from the power of darkness and the fear of death; salvation in the present and near future as they walked daily with Christ trusting in His daily deliverance; and salvation in the end future as they were raised by God to share eternity with Him and were delivered from the wrath to come. (See our summary of the evidence below).
1.11 ‘You also helping together on our behalf by your supplication, that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.’
Having risen to the heights Paul now returns to earth, and commends ‘many’ who had contributed to his deliverance from death. As a result of their supplication he and his fellow-workers had been given the gracious gift (charisma), in context of having their lives preserved, with the result that many could give thanks on their behalf. The use of ‘many’ may have reference to the fact that he was still aware that he could not say ‘all’, that he was aware of the minority in Corinth who would not have prayed for him, and would certainly not give thanks for his deliverance. Or it may simply indicate that he knew that ‘many’ were praying for him, and would thus have cause for thanksgiving.
The fact that this appears to look back to this gift as having in mind just one event would support our view of verse 10, for otherwise we might have expected Paul to apply their prayers more widely to past, present and future. It is, of course, possible that he sees ‘the gift’ as being continual. This would then indicate that he sees his continual deliverance from death as a ‘gift of grace’ and as due to their constant prayers, a gift for which also they will be able continually to give thanks. But if he saw his certainty of not dying the while as a gift of grace, would he then elsewhere put such stress on how he constantly faced death? It would destroy his whole argument. Its impact would be lost. We, and they, would argue that it was not consistent.
Thus on balance, and contrary to the majority view, we would see verse 10 as being soteriological because, to summarise;
But why then did he not use the verb ‘save’ instead of ‘deliver’? The answer is because in context he is thinking of salvation in terms of deliverance from the enemies consisting of final death and Satan (1 Corinthians 15.25-26; Hebrews 2.14-15), not salvation from sin. Compare again Colossians 1.13; 1 Thessalonians 1.10.
Thus we may see verse 10 as a triumphant expansion on the thought of ‘God Who raises the dead’.
He Declares That He Has Been Faithful To Them And To All (1.12-14)
1.12 ‘For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.’
Having established the fact of God’s great saving activity, and in return for their faithful prayers (verse 11), he now wants them to be confident about the concern that he has for them. From a true conscience he ‘glories’ in how he has behaved towards the world, and especially ‘more abundantly’ towards them, in holiness and sincerity/purity of motive, a sincerity/purity of motive which he has put to the test before God and about which he has received clearance (‘of God’). And also in the grace of God rather than in fleshly wisdom. He is already indirectly rebutting the charge of fickleness found in verse 17, of ulterior motives (see 2.17; 4.2) and of dishonesty (8.20; 12.14).
He wants them to know that he has carefully examined his conscience, and that it is absolutely clear. He has no doubts that the grace of God is at work through him, so that he acts through God’s wisdom and not his own, and that what he is doing is being done in holiness and sincerity, as one totally set apart to God and one who is genuine through and through. (Let them recognise this and ask if the same is true of his opponents). Would that we all did the same.
Note the contrast between ‘fleshly-wisdom’ and ‘divine-grace’ (grace of God). Paul is borne along, not by some doubtful ‘wisdom’ which is really of the flesh (a hit at his opponents, compare 1 Corinthians 1.17; 2.4, 13), but by the unmerited favour and activity of the living God, which is ‘of God’.
1.13-14 ‘For we write no other things to you than what you read (anaginosko) or even understand (epignosko), and I hope you will understand (epiginosko) to the end (or ‘completely’), as also you understood (epiginosko) us in part, that we are your glorying, even as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.’
(epiginosko can mean - ‘apprehend and acknowledge, receive fully as true, have spiritual knowledge’). He speaks here partly against the charge that what he is like when he is with them is very different from how he is when he writes to them (10.1, 10).
What he has written, he stresses, means exactly what they are reading and apprehending, nothing more nor less. And he hopes that they will eventually understand completely, (or will understand to the end), what they at present apprehend from it partially. That is that Paul is the one in whom they will be glorying in the day of the Lord Jesus because they owe to him their knowledge of the truth, the message of salvation that they received, just as he will be glorying in them because of what the Gospel has accomplished in them. Furthermore they will be glorying because they will recognise that he brought it to them in sincerity and truth (just as he was glorying in verse 12 in his own sincerity and genuineness in taking it).
In other words he wants them to know that his written words have no hidden meaning, no duplicity, no hidden agenda. They do not have to read between the lines. What he has written down is precisely what he means, in spite of what some tell them. (This may in fact suggest that his opponents just could not understand his teaching). And that is why they will discover in the day of the Lord Jesus that their glorying will be in Paul and his fellow-workers, because they will recognise in that day, when all truth is revealed, that it was he who brought them the genuine truth sincerely and honestly and openly, and that Paul’s glorying will be in them because of what they will prove to be as a result of genuinely hearing his words. Thus they will know then that Paul was a genuine Apostle and that he brought them Apostolic truth, and he will know that they are genuine believers because they responded to that truth.
It need hardly be said that this is the standard by which all who would serve God must constantly test themselves.
‘In the day of our Lord Jesus.’ This is the day when Jesus Christ as Lord will Himself finalise His purposes on behalf of His people. In that day, ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’, those whom Christ has confirmed to the end will be presented to God blameless and unreproveable (1 Corinthians 1.8). It is the day when the spirit of those who are His will be saved in the ‘day of the Lord Jesus’ (1 Corinthians 5.5). It is the day when Paul hopes to have something to glory of ‘in the day of Christ’ (Philippians 2.16). It is the day when they will finally be delivered from the power of death (verse 10). Thus it can be linked with the judgment seat (bema - tribunal) of God as referred to in Romans 14.10-12, or of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5.10, when all that a Christian has done will be tested for its worth, whether it be good or bad, especially his ministry for Christ (1 Corinthians 3.10-15), and everything will be laid bare, even the hidden things of darkness and the counsels of the heart, so that each might receive praise for what he has done which is worthy of such praise (1 Corinthians 4.5).
What glory will be ours when our accomplishments in His name and through His Spirit come out into the light. What shame will be ours when the shoddy work which results from our carelessness and unspirituality sees the light of day, and is despatched into the fire. And we will be the first to cry, ‘burn it up, it is not worthy’.
He Explains That The Change of Plans He Made Was Not Due To Fickleness
1.15-16 ‘And in this confidence I was minded to come first to you, that you might have a second benefit, and by you to pass into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and of you to be set forward on my journey to Judea.’
It was because of his confidence in his message, and in their readiness to receive it, that originally he had intended to come to them before going to Macedonia, so that they might have the benefit (charis - something resulting from God’s grace) of a second visit. And then after going to Macedonia to return to them for a third visit, prior to going to Judea (among other things with the collection money for the poor in Judea - 1 Corinthians 16.1). Why then did he not do so?
In verse 23 he will tell them that it was in fact to spare them in the light of what he would have to say as a result of the way they had treated him. But first he feels that he must establish the question of fickleness theologically. He is shocked to think that they might see him, the bearer of the true Gospel, as fickle. Fickleness, he wants them to know, is in fact a stranger to him (as it should be to us) because of Whom he serves. For central to being a servant of God is to be reliable. Although he will then point out that, for those who serve God, their plans must always be thoughtfully carried through and be subject to His will.
‘Of you to be set forward.’ The verb indicates that they were to arrange his journey to Judea, sending companions with him to carry ‘the collection’ for the poor in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16.1), and making all provision for those who went with him. Acts 20.2-4 may suggest that this never happened, but Luke is not necessarily being exhaustive there about who accompanied Paul.
1.17 ‘When I therefore was so minded, did I show fickleness? Or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be the yes, yes, and the no, no?’
Was then his failure to visit them in the way that he had promised due to ‘the fickleness’ (i.e. ‘the fickleness of which I am accused’)? Or was it because he made his decisions from his own selfish point of view (according to the flesh)? Is he the kind of person who keeps changing his mind saying ‘yes, yes’ and then ‘no, no’? The answer will now be a resounding ‘no’.
1.18-20 ‘But as God is faithful, our word toward you is not yes and no. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timothy, was not yes and no, but in him is yes. For however many be the promises of God, in him is the yes, wherefore also through him is the Amen, to the glory of God through us.’
He denies utterly the suggestion that he is negative or fickle by pointing to the faithfulness of the God, with Whose word he comes and Whom he seeks to be like, and Who came in Jesus with a positive message, not one that was ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but that was ‘yes, yes’ and ‘Amen’. This then brings out the positiveness of Jesus, Whom Paul preached among them. He too was not ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
This is said not just in order to vindicate himself, but to vindicate the very message that he preaches. As certainly as God is faithful, so is his word faithful to them and not ‘yes’ and ‘no’, for he serves the faithful God (Deuteronomy 7.9; Isaiah 49.7) and brings His word. And just as certainly did God’s Son Jesus also have this faithfulness and this certainty, in that in Him also was ‘yes’. And he was preached by Paul, Silas and Timothy, so that they too were involved in His ‘yes’, and He was preached among them so that they might have experience of the power of Christ at work through Paul.
For however many were the promises of God, God’s Son Jesus Christ said ‘yes’ to them all. The whole of the Old Testament carried His backing. He was totally faithful to the promises of God, and confirmed that they would be fulfilled (see Matthew 5.18). So there is no failure in the faithfulness of God, or in His promises, or in Jesus Christ His Son. Nor would there be in those who proclaimed Him in power.
‘Wherefore also through him is the Amen, to the glory of God through us.’ So through God’s Son Jesus Christ everything that Paul proclaims (‘through us’), based as it is on His word, receives His ‘Amen’. It has His guarantee. It is sure and certain, thus bringing glory to God. And that is why the church can say ‘Amen’ to it all. Indeed in Revelation John can say that Jesus is ‘the Amen’ as the faithful and true witness (Revelation 3.14). And that faithful and true witness is confirmed in His servants who proclaim His truth, who themselves proclaim the faithfulness of God, by the power revealed through them, such power that the testimony of Christ was confirmed in those who heard (1 Corinthians 1.6; 2.4). For he and his fellow-workers are so closely connected with God and with Christ that they cannot be but faithful. They are imitators of God and of Christ, from whom they receive their power in their ministry.
‘Our word towards you is not yes and no.’ For their word is the word of the faithful God, it is the word of God’s Son Jesus Christ, to Whom all was ‘yes’, with Whom there is no ‘no’. And this word will be reflected in all the words they speak, whether in preaching or in promises. Thus there can be no fickleness in them.
For however many promises of God there are, God’s Son Jesus Christ says ‘yes’ to them all. And in the same way when He is acting through them it is with the ‘Amen’, to the glory of God. For they come in Christ’s name under Christ’s lordship, and through Him there can only be ‘Amen’ (let it be so) in the things of God.
‘Who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timothy.’ He, Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy had all preached among them ‘the Son of God, Jesus Christ’. The use of ‘Son of God’ here is the more directly to connect Jesus Christ to the God Who is faithful. Could those who preached such a One with such power themselves be fickle?
1.21-22 ‘Now he who is establishing (‘is confirming’) us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God, who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.’
And this is confirmed by the fact of Who has established them, and how He has done it. Let them recognise Who it is Who is ‘confirming’, vindicating and authorising, he and his fellow-workers to them For he and his fellow-workers are, like the Corinthians themselves (‘with you’), God’s men, firmly being established (being confirmed) in Christ, just as they are. And let the Corinthians remember that their own being established (being confirmed) in Christ owes much to Paul (1 Corinthians 1.6, 8). And it is this same faithful God who has anointed them all and has also sealed them, and given them the earnest of the Spirit in their hearts.
The idea behind ‘anointing’ is essentially that of being set aside by God for His service. In the Old Testament kings, priests and prophets were all anointed. But it was only in certain specific cases that it resulted in the coming of the Spirit of God. Interestingly there is never any suggestion that priestly anointing resulted in the coming of the Spirit. That was for ‘the prophets’ (Numbers 11.29). The two ideas were therefore not necessarily parallel. Anointing and the coming of the Spirit of God are two separate ideas, even if the second did sometimes follow the first, and with Christians will occur together.
So here the anointing is the indication of their all being separated to the service for God, and as having received His truth so that they are able to discern it truly (1 John 2.20). That is why they have an anointing. While their being sealed, and thus confirmed as God’s, by reception of ‘the earnest of the Spirit’ in their hearts, is confirmation that they belong to God, and are sealed as His personal possession. The earnest of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of what is theirs and of what is to come.
An earnest is a ‘sample’ of something that is promised, guaranteeing both the fact and the quality of what is to come. (When a trader had made a sale for future delivery he would often give a sample of the goods as evidence of the sale and as a guarantee of what the whole consignment would be like. It was called an ‘earnest’). So is the Spirit in their hearts God’s guarantee that they are His, and a sample of what they will be and will receive in the consummation, when God is all in all.
It is made clear that these blessings are elsewhere received by all who become Christians. An anointing which makes sure to them the truth is described in 1 John 2.20, 27; the sealing is described in Ephesians 1.13; 4.30 as signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit of promise and the guarantee of their partaking in the day of redemption, and the earnest of the Spirit is described as the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession (Ephesians 1.14).
So Paul is here linking he and his fellow-workers with the Corinthian Christians as fellow participants in the grace of God. They are all one in being set apart by Him and in being partakers in the sealing by, and work of, the Holy Spirit (compare 1 Corinthians 12.13). Let there therefore be no more division.
Some note here the trinitarian element which so constantly appears in Paul (compare 1 Corinthians 12.4-6). The work of the Godhead is carried forward by, in this case, the faithful God, ‘God’s Son’ and by the Holy Spirit. For we must not forget that the Son is ‘born of’ (is of the same essential nature as) the Father (John 1.14) and the Spirit ‘proceeds’ from the Father (John 15.26), is of His essence. Note in this verse that ‘God’ is specifically revealed as faithful, and was not ‘yes’ and ‘no’, in precisely the way that was revealed in the actions of God’s Son, which are thus seen as His actions. In all they do the two are one.
It should be noted, as against some, that none of these blessings are ever directly connected with baptism in the New Testament so that there are no grounds for linking them directly with baptism here, even though the later church, as it became more formal, would make the link. Clearly baptism would outwardly indicate those who had previously experienced these things, indeed in the early days would follow immediately after as an indication that they were Spirit endued. But in the early days the reception of the Spirit was rather indicated more visibly in the power and joy that came on them (Galatians 3.2, 5; Acts 13.52). In Acts this sometimes came before baptism, sometimes at baptism, and sometimes after baptism. But in all cases the Spirit had been at work first. Paul trusted in the word of the cross in power as the saving agent, not baptism (1 Corinthians 1.17-18).
Paul Explains His Reasons For What He Has Done And Calls For Leniency On The One Who Had Sinned And Has Now Repented (1.23-2.11).
Paul now explains why he had changed his travel plans after his hurtful visit and then explains the subsequent severe letter he had had to send to them. Both these events had seemingly happened after he had written 1 Corinthians. And then he gives further instructions because of how great had been the effect of his severe letter. He did not want anything to be taken too far.
In 1 Corinthians, while he had had to rebuke, it had been in expectation of things being put right without too much difficulty, so that he had not anticipated that it would put a barrier in the way of his visiting them for a goodly period. But when he had subsequently paid them a quick visit it had turned out to be a very hurtful one, for someone had raised the church up in opposition against him, so much so that he had felt it best to leave Corinth immediately and deal with the matter by a severe and strong letter, rather than by having an open and possibly permanently damaging confrontation.
What the further trouble was is open to interpretation. What seems clear is that one person was mainly behind it all (verses 5-7), and that somehow he had managed temporarily to get a good proportion of the church (or of one particular house church which Paul visited) on his side. The result was that when Paul had made his surprise visit to Corinth, that person, supported by other members of the church, had made hurtful and spiteful accusations against him, presumably with ‘here, here’ being heard in the background along with a lot of scowling faces, and had roused so much ill feeling that Paul had felt it best to withdraw quickly in order to preserve the peace and unity of the church.
The accusations presumably included the fact of his supposed fickleness in not visiting them when he had promised to, probably stirred up by clever manipulation, and possibly included the fact that now he had come it was only for a quick visit, and not the long stay he had promised. The suggestion was therefore probably made that it demonstrated that he was both unreliable and dishonest. This might have especially affected those who had seen themselves as the primary targets of 1 Corinthians.
The main person who had opposed him might well have been someone who was concerned to gain pre-eminence, and had won some adherents, and did not want Paul’s interference. Possibly it was he, along with some of those who saw themselves as super-spiritual, who stressed that Paul’s weakness, and appearance, and sufferings, demonstrated that he was not really an Apostle of God. But even the less antagonistic members might well have been upset that now that he had come he had said that it was only for a short visit, and thus have joined in the dissatisfaction against Paul.
A less sensitive Apostle might, after consideration of what was happening, have remained so as to demonstrate that his authority could not be questioned, without having regard for the long term effects, concerned more for their own reputation than the food of the church. But Paul was not like that. He was not concerned about his hurt pride, or his position for its own sake. All he took into account was the long term benefit of the church. And he had therefore immediately left Corinth because he had felt that that could not be achieved at this time by harsh personal action, or fighting his corner in person, leaving long term hurt all round. He had recognised that it must be dealt with in another way. Present feeling was running too high.
At which point he had sent a severe letter, the severe letter which he will now refer to, which turned out to be so successful that he has to advise leniency towards the person involved.
1.23 ‘But I call God for a witness on my soul, that to spare you I forbore coming to Corinth.’
So why then had Paul failed in his promise to come to Corinth? He calls on God to witness to the truth of what he says. It was in order to spare them what would have resulted from his arrival had he come in person. He had felt that the result he desired was better achieved by his severe letter (2.1-4) and the arrival of Titus among them.
That he felt it necessary to make such an oath shows how difficult the position was. He clearly felt that it overrode the Lord’s teaching that oaths should be avoided in normal relationships. Here it was necessary because it was important for the sake of the Gospel to establish the facts without doubt. He wanted them to know that there really was no other reason for his absence than that he had wanted to spare them sorrow.
‘On my soul’ probably simply means ‘on me’, that is, ‘on what I speak from my inner heart’. Although some see it as indicating something stronger, ‘on my very life’.
In other words he did not want them to be left with the impression that that the reason that he had not come was because he was sulking, or because he was so angry that he wanted nothing to do with them. And a mild explanation at this point might have left them with just such a feeling, and with the idea that his explanation was just an excuse and that he was just being devious. So he was concerned that they did recognise that he was being honest and that that was the true reason, so he confirmed it by this mild oath.
But what does he mean by ‘spare you’? The probability is that he had recognised that he might have to speak very severely about the person in question, and those who were supporting him, in the presence of the whole church, which might have left a longstanding sense of grievance among them. Some might even have been brought in to the situation who were not really to blame, and who might well have been caught in the cross fire, leaving a further trail of resentment. Much misunderstanding might have arisen. This would then have been a hindrance to his future ministry among them. On the other hand his view had been that an Apostolic letter, and a visit by Titus who was clearly not directly involved, would not be taken so personally, and would hopefully strike at the right targets, leaving the way open for a further visit by him.
(That we do not have more details is annoying for the commentator, but it is actually for the good of the church due to the thousands of church situations to which it can be applied, thus giving church leaders an example of unselfish pastoring to go by and to imitate).
1.24 ‘Not that we have lordship over your faith, but are helpers of your joy. For in faith you stand fast.’
He wants them further to know that he is not suggesting that their faith depended on this, nor that he feels that he has the right to criticise their faith. That is between them and God. (He is not talking about the content of their faith, but the genuineness of it). And besides he knows that their faith is firm, that they stand fast in faith. But rather it was in order to establish their joy and ensure peace among them. It was the harmony and contentment of the church that he was concerned about.
2.1-3 ‘But I determined this for myself, that I would not come again to you with sorrow. For if I make you sorry, who then is he who makes me glad but he who is made sorry by me? And I wrote this very thing, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from those of whom I ought to rejoice, having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.’
Paul’s desire was to bring them joy, not sorrow. Thus he had determined that after his previous hurtful visit he would not again visit them until he could come in joy. For how could he make sorrowful face to face those who should rather be bringing gladness to his heart had they been in the right frame of mind to receive his words, those whom he loved? That is why he had written his severe letter, confident that what they really wanted was in fact what he wanted, and that therefore to come and bring them sorrow by his presence unnecessarily, when he should be rejoicing in them, was not to be considered. For he was confident that in the end what brought him joy would bring them joy and thus they would accept his letter and resolve the situation.
This again does not mean simply that Paul could not bear people thinking ill of him, and that all that he thought of was his own joy. His concern was rather not to cause any friction which might be lasting. So that those whom he should in the future be helping and over whom he would then rejoice, should not be so put off that he could not in future help them, with the result that neither would rejoice. He was thinking of them and their futures, and the harmony and growth of the church not of himself.
2.4 ‘For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that you should be made sorry, but that you might know the love that I have more abundantly to you.’
For the truth was that he loved them dearly, so much so that the severe letter had cause him much anguish of heart. Composing it had not been easy. It had been a great burden to him. And his prime intention had not been to make them sorry, although that had been necessary, but in order to show that he really cared about them, and that what he was requiring as an Apostle was really for their benefit, and was because of his concern and love for them.
This statement would seem to confirm that the letter referred to is not 1 Corinthians, but an unknown letter, because while he had been firm in 1 Corinthians, there is nothing about it that suggests tears of anguish.
2.5 ‘But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow, not to me, but in some measure (so that I do not press the case too heavily) to you all.’
Indeed the reason that he dealt with the offender so strongly in his letter is not because of the sorrow the man has caused him, he does not think of that, but the sorrow he has caused, (up to a certain point, for he does not want to overexaggerate), to the whole Corinthian church. However he stresses that he does not want to overstate the case. The sorrow that they have experienced is probably not equal to his own. (This very concern not to overstate the case stresses that when he speaks of the depths of his own sorrow he means every word of it).
‘But in some measure (in part).’ To a certain measure, to a certain level.
2.6-8 ‘Sufficient to such a one is this punishment (‘censure, reproof, reprimand’) which was inflicted by the many, so that, in contrast to that, you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you to confirm your love towards him.’
It appears that in response to his severe letter the church has repented and meted out quite severe punishment on the offender, possibly in the form of a severe public reprimand and even exclusion from some of the benefits of the church, for example from the love feasts or from taking part in the services. Now therefore he feels that it is time for them to forgive him and reinstate him. The punishment inflicted by the majority of the church has been quite sufficient. It has resulted in his repentance. Now they must show forgiveness and come alongside to help him and comfort him, in case his sorrow and remorse becomes so overwhelming that it devastates him. So, says Paul, I beg you (or ‘urge you’) to ‘confirm’ your love towards him. ‘Confirm’ has legal significance and suggests a specific act of restoration by which the man is assured of their love.
Most old commentaries identify this man with the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who was to be committed to Satan (cast out of the church). The main reason why this is unlikely is the personal hurt that this one has caused to Paul. While the man in question in 1 Corinthians sinned deeply, even though it distressed Paul it was not particularly against him. There was no reason there why Paul’s forgiveness should especially be sought, whereas the man in view here has acted in such a way as to require precisely that. Nor is it clear how even such a dreadful kind of adultery should cause Paul the distress described in verse 4. The only way in which it could be so is if the same man had obtained sway over the whole church, and had led the attack on Paul. And would such a man have repented at Paul’s letter if previously he had been so obdurate?
It is far more likely that this man was one who had sought to usurp Paul’s place in the hearts of the Corinthians, possibly entering among them as a newcomer with letters of commendation from someone of importance, and had done it in a particularly obnoxious manner, with false insinuation and accusations, and a show of strength, probably assisted by special cronies. He had done it in such a subtle way that he had influenced many of the church sufficiently to cause them to side with him against Paul when Paul paid his unexpected visit. But he must have been to some extent genuine for him to be so repentant. He appears to have been a dupe of Satan rather than an evil man.
2.9 ‘Because for this purpose also I wrote, that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things.’
He assures them that the main reason that he had written the severe letter to them was not in order to obtain punishment for the man, but so that he could test out their own obedience to him as an Apostle, ‘in all things’, not just what they chose to accept. That was what really mattered. He was not out for revenge. Rather he had wanted to find out if they would again respond to his authority and follow his instructions about everything he had written. And it had turned out well.
2.10-11 ‘But to whom you forgive anything, I forgive also: for what I also have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, it is for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his devices.’
So now he was ready to completely forgive, because the man had truly repented and was in a state to receive forgiveness, and this was so that Satan might not gain advantage out of the situation. It was good that the man had had to humble himself. But it would not be good if that led to him losing faith and hope. And they had to keep in mind Satan’s wiles and devices, which they were surely fully aware of.
He therefore assures them that when they forgive the man, as he has exhorted, he will forgive him as well. (Note that he still leaves the decision in their hands. A pastor who forces his people to accept his will is no pastor). Indeed that for their sakes he has already forgiven the man ‘in the presence of Christ’, (probably signifying in prayer before Him), if indeed his forgiveness was necessary, for what mattered most was Christ’s forgiveness, and their forgiveness, so that Satan might not have any opportunity to gain any advantage over them.
Paul Demonstrates How Concerned He Had Been But Rejoices That His Ministry Has Been Thoroughly Vindicated (2.12-17).
Having dealt with the question as to why he had failed to visit them as he had promised, and what had happened subsequently, Paul brings home to them the relief that had been his when he learned that they had responded positively to his letter. Together with an unexpected opportunity at Troas where God had worked abundantly it had made him recognise that even in the darkest hour God continually leads His people in triumph. God is not defeated by circumstances. They are but stepping stones leading to His further glory.
2.12-13 ‘Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ, and when a door was opened to me in the Lord, I had no relief for my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother, but taking my leave of them, I went forth into Macedonia.’
He first describes the great concern that he had had about the situation in Corinth. He had been so upset that when he arrived in the port of Troas with a view to crossing to Macedonia, and had found there a great opportunity for the Gospel, he had nevertheless cut it short because he was so eager to get to Macedonia to hear Titus’ report.
‘When I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ.’ This may mean that the reason why he was in Troas was his concern for the Gospel of Christ, either because of his desire to learn from Titus as quickly as possible what the Corinthian response had been, or because he had been driven out of Ephesus for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. But more likely it means that whatever had been his intention, God had had different intentions. God’s intention had been the furtherance of the Gospel of Christ in Troas, and that was why he found himself there at that particular time. He was there for the Gospel of Christ. Whichever it was the main point is that the purpose of his being there was in one way or another the furthering of the Gospel. And God rewarded him by opening for him a door of opportunity in Troas.
For while he had hoped to meet Titus there, coming to him from Corinth via Macedonia, and had been disappointed, he had found that meanwhile there were those in Troas ready to receive the Gospel, which was an encouragement in a dark hour.
‘And when a door was opened to me in the Lord.’ We do not know exactly what this involved, but clearly Troas presented a welcome break and positive opportunity after the trials of Ephesus and in view of the equal pressures of the Corinthian situation. We may assume that he found people ready and willing to hear him and his fellow-workers. Compare here Acts 14.27. How it must have lightened his heart. And knowing Paul we need not doubt that he took the opportunity as best he could, given the short time available, even though he now felt urged to go to Macedonia in order to meet Titus.
Yet even though things were opening up at Troas he was so pressed in his spirit that he had felt that the latter had to have precedence. So having ministered there in Troas for a short while, (how else did he know that there was an open door?), possibly while awaiting ship, (and we may assume having made arrangements for the work to be carried on), he determined to move on, and he took his leave of the people in Troas and took ship for Macedonia, almost certainly leaving others behind to continue the ministry (how else could he justify leaving a manifest work of God?).
One question we must therefore ask is, why does he mention this brief interlude when he describes almost nothing of the success he had there? One reason may well have been that it was because he wanted the Corinthians to know just how eager he had been to learn of their response, so much so that he had cut short his work in a place where he was welcome in order to learn about the response of people who, when he had visited them, had not made him welcome. That may have included the fact that he wanted them to recognise that others recognised him even if some of them did not.
But another may well be because, in his present state, now that he had learned the good news about the Corinthian response to his letter and of the success of Titus’ visit, and was more settled in his spirit, he remembered that when he had been most hard pressed, and had had other things on his mind, God had still worked through him in power, demonstrating that he was still His chosen Apostle, and that God was at work through him still, causing him to triumph. It is probably that glorious thought that partly causes the digression that now takes place in order to give thanks to God for the wonderful way He had worked even when all seemed dark and gloomy. For now he had the opportunity to think of it that had been what had helped to sustain him at that time.
That would help to explain why at this point he breaks off the narrative, which he will resume in 7.5. The connection there seems at first sight to be so good that some have thought that 2.14-7.4 was introduced into the narrative later. However, there is no manuscript evidence to support that idea at all, and the change of person from singular to plural in 7.4 would seem to be decisively against it.
Much more likely is it that the digression occurred because of another of Paul’s flights of imagination (as we have noted briefly in 1.10), which this time then continued in what would prove to be true Pauline fashion (compare for example Ephesians 3.1 with 4.1).
But what was it that sparked off the triumphant declaration of thanksgiving and triumph in the next verse? Was it that on mentioning Macedonia Paul was suddenly flooded with the realisation of what had followed, his learning of the repentance and restoration at Corinth which the mention of arrival in Macedonia brings home to him? Or was it the remembrance of the fact that when he was at his most pessimistic God had opened a new door of opportunity at Troas, showing that all was not lost after all. Or was it both? For suddenly it dawned on him, even as he was writing, that whatever his state of mind, and however dark things seemed, God was constantly triumphing and leading His servants in a triumphant march of victory
(The incident at Troas would also reinforce to the Corinthians that even when opposition was greatest God was always with him in power and that there were always those to whom God would speak through him as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and who would listen).
2.14-16 ‘But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and is making known through us the fragrance of his knowledge in every place. For we are a sweet fragrance of Christ to God, in those who are saved, and in those who perish. To the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. And who is sufficient for these things?’
The memory of his reception in Troas at such a dark hour, combined with the Corinthian turn around, reminds him again of how God has His own ways of going about things ‘in every place’. How easy it was in the dark days and the bad times to forget that God was the One Who triumphed against all difficulties. He had been too weighed down to think about it at the time but now that he thinks back on it he realises what the triumph in Troas, along with the triumph in respect of Corinth, had actually meant to him. And his mind switches from those triumphs to all his other times of triumph, and he bursts out in grateful thanks to God. He had been in despair at the time but God had not. And God had reminded him that He was still in command. And his heart overflows with the memory.
He remembers what a relief it had been at the time of his utmost constraint, that he had found himself like a victor, (or alternately a prisoner of Christ), marching in the train of God the triumphant General, as he saw the work that God was ready to accomplish through him in Troas, and had done even in such a short stay. And thinking about it he cannot help but give voice to his gratitude. Even in a place like Troas, (which he had intended merely to be a port of embarkation), and in the concerned state that he was in with all his thoughts set on the Corinthians, he had found that God made open to men the fragrance of His knowledge through him, just as He had in so many other places. It was a reminder that God could work everywhere, and had, and that he had really had no need to despair. And when he had arrived in Macedonia and had heard the good news from Corinth it was the icing on the cake. He realised that God was triumphant everywhere.
The Roman Triumph was a glorious affair. It was a public display in honour of a triumphant general returning from a wholly victorious campaign which had added greatly to the prestige of the Empire. In that glorious procession, led by the highest authorities in Rome, would be found captive prisoners in chains, trophies of war, the priests with their censers of incense, and the general himself in his chariot, resplendently dressed, followed by his victorious troops, and surrounded by the massed and cheering crowds.
Paul elsewhere used the picture of the captives so led in chains to depict Christ’s triumph at the cross (Colossians 2.15; Ephesians 4.8; 1 Corinthians 4.9), depicting Him as having defeated the power of the Enemy, and the thought here may be that Paul saw God as leading him as His captive in triumphant victory, bringing Himself glory through him (1 Corinthians 4.9).
But more likely in view of what immediately follows is that Paul saw himself as a part of the triumphant procession led by the triumphant God, with himself one of those who swung the censers, the dispensers of incense, giving off a savour which spelled a future life of glory to the General’s army and miserable deaths to the enemy captives. (There are numerous possible variations of the theme, but it is the significance that matters rather than the exact detail).
‘‘But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ.’ The Triumph was a once in a lifetime experience, a testimony to victory, but for those who serve God, says Paul, it is a constant experience, for victory goes on and on. The picture begins with him describing God as the triumphant general, leading in triumph his adherents and followers, in this case those who are ‘in Christ’. It is only those who are in Christ who enjoy the Triumph. And now that the Corinthian issue is largely settled he has time to remember, along with this triumph, all God’s past triumphs, summed up in what had happened at Troas. God was the great victorious General indeed.
‘And is making known through us the fragrance of his knowledge in every place.’ Paul had thought in terms of Ephesus and Corinth, (he targeted the large cities) but Troas? Yes, even there God had been active. For in every place, well known or not, God gives of the fragrance of His knowledge through His people. And that was what God had done through him briefly in Troas. ‘The fragrance of His knowledge.’ True knowledge of God is like a sweet fragrance to those who respond and receive His word, breathing it in to enjoy its excellence.
(Troas was in fact an important seaport 20 kilometres south south west of the site of Troy and was made a Roman colony by Augustus, although rarely mentioned in secular literature. Its artificial harbour basins provided necessary shelter from the prevailing northerly winds and it was the port from which ships crossed to Neapolis in Macedonia. It was at Troas that Paul had received his call to Macedonia years before (Acts 16.8-9). It was there, where later there was a substantial church, that he would raise Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20.7-12)).
‘For we are a sweet odour of Christ for God, in those who are being saved, and in those who are perishing. To the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.’ Just as the knowledge of God is a fragrance, so is the messenger of the Gospel a sweet odour of Christ on God’s behalf, wafting a fragrance both to those who are being saved and those who are perishing. ‘We are a sweet odour.’ The bearers of the incense dispensers of God marching in the Triumph may well be described in terms of what they bear and dispense.
‘To one a fragrance of death to death.’ This may be suggestive of the chained captives in the Triumph who smelled the incense and recognised that it spelled their death. The incense was partly offered in gratitude for their defeat and its consequences. They knew that they were seen as rebels and only fit to die. It might then remind them of the spices that would often be burned as incense at the funerals of important people, the fragrance of death, and have seen it as an omen. In a similar way, says Paul, will all rebels receive the fragrance of death. So what should have been the fragrance of the knowledge of God to them, had become to those who have rebelled the odour of death, a message to them from death itself.
‘A fragrance from death to death.’ It was a message from personified death, the great enemy (1 Corinthians 15.26, 55) to those as good as dead, and indeed already dead in sin, that they were doomed, that death would be their lot, eternal death. All was death. As often with Paul ‘death’ spells the final end for those who will not be raised to eternal life. In the background may have been the idea of poisonous fumes from a burning fire.
‘To the other a fragrance from life to life.’ But to those who marched in victory the fragrance of the incense was a reminder of victory, and of the good times ahead, the beginning of a new life as they received the rewards of victory. In the same way, to those who received and believed the fragrance coming from the messengers of God, it was a fragrance from the One Who is life itself, from the One Who is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11.25; 14.6), as offering eternal life to those who receive Him and follow Him (John 1.12-13; 10.28). Here all is life. He Who is the Life is bestowing life.
In later Jewish literature the Torah (Pentateuch) was likened to a medicine or drug which brings benefit or harm depending on how it is used. It is either a medicine of life or a deadly poison (although not a fragrance). The ideas may well have been around in Paul’s time and some think that it may have influenced his ideas. Compare here 3.4-6 where the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. But if so he replaces the Torah with the knowledge of God through Christ.
‘And who is sufficient for these things?’ The thought overwhelms him. What man or woman is sufficient (competent, capable, adequate) to cope with such privileges and glory? The answer, of course, is ‘none’. Neither Paul nor his opponents have such sufficiency. For it can only be through God that such sufficiency is experienced (3.5).
2.17 ‘For we are not as the many, corrupting (or ‘peddling’) the word of God, but as of sincerity. But as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ.’
So, Paul concludes, they should now be able to see the truth about him and his fellow-workers. They are not, like many, corrupting and misinterpreting the word of God, or alternately hawking it about and peddling it for money. Those who did such things were people who claimed to be ‘sufficient’ but were not. Rather Paul and his fellow-workers are ‘of sincerity’. They are genuine and true in their presentation of the word of God. They have no desire for worldly gain. Indeed they are revealed to be ‘of God’, following in His triumphal train, and successfully wafting His truth to many. And it is because they are ‘of God’ that, in His very presence and before His very eyes, they speak in Christ.
And having now been caught up in his theme, and in his gratitude to God, he continues it on, only coming back to his narrative in 7.5.
He Is Not Speaking Like This To Commend Himself. Indeed The Corinthians Themselves Are His Letter of Recommendation, Written By The Spirit of God (3.1-6).
He firmly points out that he does not need to commend himself to them like this, for are they not themselves a testimony to his success in Christ? They are his letters of recommendation. And he goes on to describe the wonder of what has happened to them. It is the Spirit of the living God Who has written in their hearts the new covenant sealed by the blood of Christ. They have been reborn and transformed by His activity. What they are enjoying is no outward covenant written on stone, which in the end results in failure and condemnation. It is one written by God within them which has transformed them, and it all began through the ministry of Paul. Thus can they know that he is a true Apostle of God.
3.1-3 ‘Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? or do we need, as do some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read of all men, it being revealed openly that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh.’
‘Are we beginning again to commend ourselves?’ What he has just been describing of their being triumphantly led by God in victory must not be misunderstood. We have not said it, he stresses, in order that we may commend ourselves. For the truth is that he and his fellow-workers do not need to commend themselves. The Corinthian Christians are themselves the proof of their commendation.
So having glorified God for leading him and his fellow-workers continually in triumph Paul now stresses that the Corinthians have even greater reasons for recognising that they are true servants of Christ and that he is God’s true Apostle. Others would come with letters of recommendation, (see Acts 9.2; 22.5; 18.27; Romans 16.1) but he and his fellow-workers do not need letters of recommendation. They do not even need to commend themselves. The Corinthians themselves are his letters of recommendation, openly revealed to all men. For they owed their very rebirth to him and his ministry, and he wants them to know that they are written in the very hearts, both of him and his fellow-ministers.
‘Written on our hearts.’ They are not just converts, they are beloved brothers and sisters. We need not press the illustration It was to get over a point. It soon changes so that it becomes ‘their hearts’.
‘Ministered by us.’ They should remember through whom this wonderful work, now in their hearts, was ministered.
Paul needed no letters of recommendation because he only went to virgin territory, to places of new opportunity or to churches that he himself had founded. In the first case a letter of recommendation would have been useless, in the second it should have been unnecessary.
Note the stress on ‘all men’. Unlike his opponents Paul’s triumph is not localised. All the world knows of it for they see it in those who have come to Christ under his ministry (compare ‘in every place’ - 2.14).
Indeed all who see the Corinthian Christians recognise that they are a letter of Christ (a letter that reveals Christ, or that is from Christ and written by Him), written with something far superior to ink. They are written with the Spirit of ‘the living God’, the life-giving God, the powerfully active God, and the writing paper is not stone tablets, but their human, beating hearts. So their very lives, Paul says, declare his credentials.
The contrast is with Moses’ message, written in tablets of stone (Exodus 31.18). Moses’ message was an outward one, even if it was written with the finger of God, the writing of the old covenant. It did not of itself change hearts. It spoke of deliverance, but it also laid down requirements without giving the power to fulfil them. But the message they have received was written on the inward heart by the Spirit of the living God, it was living and vital, life-changing and personally applied, and by it they had entered into God’s new covenant (verse 6) sealed by the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11.25).
In mind were the words of God in Jeremiah 31.33, ‘I will make a new covenant --- this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts and I will write it in their heart, and I will be their God, and they will be My people --- for they will all know Me from the least of them to the greatest.’ And this combined with Ezekiel 36.27, ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.’ In both cases there is the stress on ‘new’. This would not be just a continuation of the old but would have a different basis. It would work within and not from without, an inward transforming rather than a bringing to commitment, although the very transformation would result in full commitment. So, says Paul, all that was promised in God’s word was fulfilled in them through his ministry. What needed he of a better witness?
Paul is not degrading the old covenant. The old covenant was written with ‘the finger of God’, emphasising its importance and God’s personal concern. And it came in glory (verse 7). But the new was more effective because it was written by ‘the Spirit of the living God’, God’s personal dynamic, life-giving action in the heart, and came with even greater glory. Although here we should note how Luke can use the term ‘the finger of God’ to express the work of the Spirit (compare Luke 11.20 with Matthew 12.28). So the point is more on where the action was carried out, in the first case on tablets of stone, in the second case directly in the heart, than on Who by.
There could be no clearer distinction than here of those who are offered a means of life, but of whom many turn it down, and those who by the working of God’s sovereign power are brought to respond and be saved. The one are offered the writing of God on the tablets of stone, the other receive the work of the Spirit in their hearts establishing His word there and transforming them.
3.4-6 ‘And such confidence have we through Christ to God-ward. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant. Not of the letter, but of the spirit, for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.’
And this is the confidence that he has, a confidence that he has through Christ as he looks towards God. His confidence is not in himself, or in his own resources, but in the fact that what has come, has come through Christ and what He has deserved. Thus as he looks towards God he has no doubts of what will result, for it is all of Christ.
So it is not that he looks to his own sufficiency. He and his fellow-workers do not look on themselves as sufficient (adequate). They have no high opinion of themselves. They make no claims of superiority for themselves. They do not look to their own resources. They are not boasters like others. Their sufficiency is from God, and it is He Who, having called them, has made them sufficient with His own sufficiency, as ministers of the new covenant.
In the background of this idea of sufficiency and adequacy may lie the question in Joel 2.11 (LXX), ‘who is sufficient (adequate) in it (the day of the Lord)?’ The answer is no one. In LXX it is God alone Who is ‘the Sufficient One’, for this is regularly the translation for El Shaddai (Ruth 1.20; Job 21.15; 31.2; 40.2). Thus they recognise that any sufficiency that they have must come from Him.
And this new covenant (binding relationship with God) is not written in letters, it is totally of the Spirit, as He writes the covenant within their very beings. For the covenant given in letters was one that they were unable to fulfil. At first they received it with joy and gladly subscribed to it. But later, even as they read it, it condemned them and destroyed them. It withered their hearts. They had failed to live up to its demands. But in contrast the Spirit gives life. He makes them as those who love God and desire to keep His law (Romans 8.4). It renews their hearts. And He gives them life and makes them aware of that new life that they possess (Romans 6.4), because they have been accepted by God in Christ, and have received His very life within them (Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 3.17). It continually renews their hearts.
‘For the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.’ For a similar idea compare Romans 2.29; 7.6. There was nothing wrong with the words of the old covenant itself. It was holy, and righteous and good (Romans 7.12). The wrong was in man’s heart and in his attitude towards it, and the description ‘the letter’ emphasises that wrong use. Man was taken up too much with the detail and failed to see behind it the graciousness of God and the need for a change of heart wrought by God. He refused to respond to God through it, thus bringing on himself the sentence of death. He relied on outward circumcision, and failed to recognise that he must be ‘inwardly circumcised’ (Romans 2.29). Thus the detail killed him. But the Spirit first gives life, revivifying the spirit, and as a result He brings about that response, so that man responds in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter which inhibits response (Romans 7.6). The same fragrance is wafted to all, but to one it brings life, while to the other it brings death (2.14-16).
The Contrast Between the Old and the New, Between Moses’ Covenant and Christ’s Covenant (3.7-11)
3.7-8 ‘But if the ministration of death, written, and engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his face, which glory was passing away, how shall not rather the ministration of the spirit be with glory?’
At the thought of the new covenant he now digresses as he considers the wonder of what he is talking about. What a contrast there is between the two covenants. The first, the old covenant, did come with glory. But it proved to be a ministry of death in that it could not give life because of man’s insufficiency, and could only therefore sentence to death. Yet as it was given, did not the glory of God shine on the face of Moses? Yes, but the significant fact was that Israel could not even look at him (Exodus 34.29, 35). That was in itself an indication of the situation. They could not accept the glory because of the sinfulness of their hearts. They could not bear the holiness of God. What God was giving was glorious, but man shied from it. He could not bear it. And even then the glory connected with its giving was a passing glory, a fading glory. Eventually it passed way. Thus indicating its temporary nature.
But if such a covenant was given in glory, even if it was fading glory, how much more glorious will be the ministration of the spirit. The thought here is of the new spirit of life put within them, in contrast with death. That is far more glorious.
‘The ministration of death.’ Paul later expands on this idea elsewhere. The prime intention of the Law was to give life. The man who does it shall live by it (Romans 10.5). But it became a ministration of death because of man’s weakness. He did not live by it. Thus it could only condemn him.
3.9 ‘For if the ministration of condemnation has glory, much rather does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.’
He compares the two covenants. The one administered condemnation. It pointed man to his sin but could do nothing further for him (although God did provide through the sacrificial system a means of atonement. But even that became trivialised - Isaiah 1.11-15). But the other actually administers righteousness. It firstly makes men righteous in the sight of God (5.21) and then it works righteousness within their hearts. But what does ‘righteousness’ signify here? We do not have to take either/or. It means righteousness overall. At the moment of conversion righteousness is imputed, we are accounted righteous, and at the same time righteousness is imparted, we are made righteous by the impartation of the Spirit and the transformation of the heart. How much more glorious then is the second covenant rather than the first. It is a covenant that ministers forgiveness and mercy from the start, and which works within men the ability to succeed (Philippians 2.12-13).
3.10-11 ‘For truly that which has been made glorious has not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasses For if that which passes away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.’
‘In this respect’ or ‘in this case’ may also be translated ‘partially’ (thus ‘that which has been made glorious partially has not been made glorious’ i.e fully glorious), but either way the sense is clear.
For while we can certainly say that the first was made glorious, its glory is as nothing when compared with (in respect of) the second. For the second so surpassed the first in glory, that the glory of the first is totally outmatched. So while the first covenant was made in glory, it was in a glory that was passing away, it was a secondary glory. How much more then will the superior second covenant be made in glory, and in a glory which remains. It will never pass away. For that glory is the glory of the Lord revealed and enjoyed by those who can now look on Him without fear (verse 18).
For the first covenant ministers death and is passing. The second ministers life and righteousness, and is eternal. We must, however, remember that this is the final verdict, looked at from what each can finally achieve. Of course the same God Who acts through the second covenant acted through the first. That too was a covenant of grace, and that too offered a means of salvation. But in the end it turned out that it was only taken up by the few. It was a matter of their choice. On the other hand all who enter into the second covenant find salvation, for it is a covenant of salvation, and puts those who respond to it within God’s saving purposes in Christ. It is a matter of His choice. The first covenant having given deliverance (I am the Lord Who has delivered you), goes on to make demands, which may not be fulfilled, the second gives deliverance, and then gives power, and goes on giving and giving again and again.
We are not to think from this that the first covenant was a failure. It succeeded in what it set out to do. It established Israel as a nation made up of many conglomerate parts, it provided them, especially through the prophets, with a basis for moral living which was unsurpassed until Christ came, and it provided a means of salvation through God’s appointed means. But in itself it could not give life. It offered life, but only on condition of a true response of faith and obedience, and that response was mainly lacking. Under it God did in mercy give life to those who truly responded to Him, but true response was small. The second covenant is, however, a covenant of life. It does not only offer life, it imparts life. And those who respond to it are in Christ, and enjoy all the benefits that He has purchased for them through His blood.
We may summarise the situation, some of which is read in by implication, as follow:
Paul’s purpose in writing this downstaging of the old covenant and exaltation of the new may partly have been as a result of Judaising influences in the church. Especially if missionaries had come from Jerusalem with letters of commendation, causing part of the opposition against his message (see 11.18-23 compare 3.1) and laying a great emphasis on Moses as God’s ideal. It is pointing out that in the end what Moses brought was not sufficient.
Consideration of the Consequences of the Difference In the Two Covenants (3.12-18)
3.12-14 ‘Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, and are not as Moses, who put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel should not look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away, but their minds were hardened, for up to this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains, it not being revealed to them that it is done away in Christ.’
The contrast between Moses and the Gospel continues. Having such a hope, the hope of experiencing glory, results in the preacher (in context Paul and his fellow-workers) being able to speak with much boldness of speech, in comparison with Moses who was compelled to hide his face. For the Gospel is an everlasting Gospel, and its glory goes on and on, and it imparts glory, but what was on Moses’ face slowly passed away, and was largely unwelcome to those who saw it. They did not want God to get too close. The one is eternally permanent, and applies to all, the other was temporary, for it was of limited application.
‘That which was passing away.’ It is not strictly the glory that is seen as ‘that’, as what was passing away, for doxa is feminine. It is probably the idea that lay behind the glory, the significance of the glory, what God had wanted to convey through the glory, that was what was passing away.
So the veil on Moses’ face resulted in a hardening of their hearts. Because of the veil they were not made to face up to the reality of what God was. They could hide from God’s light. Thus their obedience also fell away. And, Paul adds, the same situation continues today. When men hear ‘Moses’ read there is still a veil there, just as when they heard the covenant of old. The words are there but the significance is hidden. Had their eyes been opened to see the significance of what God was offering they would have recognised that the old covenant has been done away in Christ. But they have failed to see what He is offering because like the people of old they prefer the veil to remain. They shy away from the true revelation of God.
‘That the children of Israel should not look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away.’ This could mean that it was so that they would not be able to look at the final stages of the fading (the end), or so that they would not look on the purpose (the end, the aim) of the glory, which was to reveal to them something of Himself.
Paul was not the only Jew to believe that the Jews were in darkness. The Qumran community was of the opinion that those in Jerusalem "do not know the hidden meaning of what is actually taking place, nor have they ever understood the lessons of the past" (1QMyst 2-3), while the Essenes likened the nation to "the blind and those that grope their way" (Cairo Damascus Document 1:8-9). The sad thing, however, is that their hearts too were veiled unless some did finally respond to the Gospel.
3.15 ‘But to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.’
The final phrase in verse 14 is repeated, but this time going a step further and applies the veil, not to ‘Moses’ but to their own heart. For the fact is that it is not just ‘Moses’ (the Torah) that is veiled, there is a veil on their own hearts. It is there as a result of their choice. They chose to let Moses wear the veil. Now they choose not to come to the light of God (John 3.19). They prefer darkness, hiddenness. As he will say later they have been blinded by the god of this world (4.4). We can contrast this with the disciples whose minds were opened so that they saw the significance of Messianic teaching in the Old Testament (Luke 24.45-46 compare 24.32 with 25-27).
3.16 ‘But whenever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away.’
Here we have to interpret ‘it’. So, it could mean ‘but whenever the heart (referring back to verse 15) of a man turns to the Lord’, or ‘whenever there is a turning to the Lord’ or ‘whenever a person turns to the Lord’, the veil is taken away. The overall idea is the same and the verb gives the impression of the swiftness of it. The person looks and lives.
‘To the Lord.’ Taken in context we would expect ‘the Lord’ to mean Jesus Christ (compare 1.2, 3, 14; 4.5, 10, 14; 11.17 and see 1 Corinthians 8.6 and Paul’s regular unquestionable references to Jesus Christ in that letter as ‘the Lord’ (2.8; 4.5; 6.14; 10.21; 11.20, 26, 27, 29; 12.3, 5; 15.47). Then the idea would be the general one that all men have a veil over their hearts, and when they turn to the Lord Jesus Christ it results in the veil being taken away (see 4.4).
But strictly the veil is in context said to be over the hearts of those who hear ‘Moses’. So alternately it may mean ‘whenever anyone (who is listening to the reading of the Law) turns to the Lord the veil is taken away’ signifying those who listen to the reading of ‘Moses’ (verse 15). It is then declaring that any such who genuinely reach out to the Lord, here referring back to the Lord of the Old Testament, (Who however is Jesus Christ) will in that be enlightened, with the necessary result that they turn to Jesus Christ. The corollary is that those who cling to Moses are still veiled.
3.17 ‘Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’
We must probably see this as an explanation of Whom ‘the Lord’ is in verse 16. If ‘the Lord’ there refers back to the Lord in the Old Testament because it has Jews in mind, then this is simply pointing out that the Spirit of the Lord is the Lord manifested in power. The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, freedom from the Law, freedom from condemnation. Turning to the Lord truly results in such freedom.
The suggestion that it simply means the Holy Spirit as bearing the title ‘Lord’ must be seen as doubtful because it would be unusual to speak of ‘turning to the Spirit’ as would be implied in verse 16. That would be using an idea which is unparalleled elsewhere. The Spirit always points away from Himself. Furthermore the reference to the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ in the second part of this verse also suggests that there too the Lord is not the Spirit either. He cannot be the Spirit of Himself. In fact taking ‘Spirit of the Lord’ to signify the Spirit of Yahweh, ‘the Lord’ in that phrase here means the God of the Old Testament.
But if it did mean ‘the Lord is the (Holy) Spirit’ then it would suggest that it was Paul’s intentions to indicate that Jesus is the Lord (verse 16), and the Spirit is the Lord (verse 17a), although also still being the Spirit of Yahweh (the Lord) (verse 17b), Who is Lord over all, a clear statement of the triunity of ‘the Lord’.
However, the probability in the context of Corinthians must be that the Lord in verse 16 refers to Jesus Christ. And there is no difficulty in the phrase ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ then because Paul would certainly have no difficulty in aligning Jesus Christ with the Lord of the Old Testament. He calls Him ‘the Lord, Jesus Christ’ and elsewhere declares that ‘Jesus is Lord’, bearing the name that is above every name (Romans 10.9; Philippians 2.8-11). Thus it is the equivalent of the Spirit of Christ (Romans 10.9). But if that is so what could the first part of this verse mean.
How then is ‘the Lord that spirit’? One possible explanation in this case is that we should use a small ‘s’ and see ‘the Lord is that spirit’ as being intended as an explanation, tying together the reference to the Lord in verse 16, where His function is to give light and life, with the references to the spirit in verses 6b and 6c, where the idea is similar, to show that the ‘spirit’ referred to there is not intended to refer directly to the Spirit of the living God of 3.3 but to ‘the spirit of Jesus’, this being seen in terms of the ‘life-giving spirit’ of 1 Corinthians 15.45; (‘spirit in verse 6b is without the article, possibly to distinguish it from the reference in 3.3, so that the article in 6c and here in 17 could be referring back to verse 6b). Compare also 1 Corinthians 6.17.
Then Paul is saying, ‘the Lord in verse 16 is the essence of the ‘spirit’ which is in contrast to the ‘letter’, the spirit that reveals, the spirit that gives life, the life-giving spirit, and it is Jesus Who is the life-giving spirit, (1 Corinthians 15.45) Who works by means of the Spirit of the Lord’, Who can elsewhere be described as the Spirit of Christ (Romans 10.9). Compare John 5.22, 26 where ‘the Son makes alive whom He will’ and ‘has life in Himself’. He is the life-giving spirit. This would not have the same difficulties for Paul’s readers as it does to us, for they would not in their minds have crystallised the persona of God as much as we do. They were happy to see God as Spirit (John 4.24), Jesus as life-giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15.45), and the Holy Spirit as Spirit.
Alternately it may simply mean that the Lord reveals His truth through the Spirit. The Lord is manifested by the Spirit.
The final implication is that again through Him there is freedom from the Law as interpreted in the Synagogue, and from its condemnation, from the law of sin and death (Romans 8.2). They are no longer legally bound by its requirements, they have escaped the spirit of bondage and the fear it produces (Romans 8.15a). They are instead free and at liberty, they are sons who observe the family rules (Romans 8.15b). They are under the law to Christ, responsible to obey Him (1 Corinthians 9.21). But they are not under the condemnation of the Law.
All this is not, of course, to deny the clear implication of the closeness of the Lord with the Holy Spirit, as the second half of verse 17 reveals, for such closeness can be paralleled in John 14.17-18, 20, 23 and Romans 8.9. Whatever view we take it clearly indicates the close relationship between the Lord and the Spirit.
3.18 ‘But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror (or ‘beholding intently’) the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.’
The literal order of the words is ‘but we all with unveiled face the glory of the Lord beholding as in a mirror.’ So we could translate, ‘beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (manifested) with unveiled face (singular)’.
So the first question must be as to whose face is here seen as unveiled. Is it our ‘face’ (each of our faces) that is unveiled, or is it the face of the church as a whole, or is it the face of the Lord Jesus Christ which is unveiled revealing His glory? The thought of the unveiled face of the glory of Christ ties in with the contrast of Moses whose glory was veiled in verse 13 and with the reference to the glory of God which is in the face of Jesus Christ in 4.6. Then is brought out the continuing impact of continually seeing the glory of Christ, even if not fully, on our continuing Christian lives.
On the other hand the context has already moved the veil from the face of Moses (verse 13), and from the Law which represented Moses (verse 14), to the veiling of the heart (verse 15). Thus the veiling of faces, and the unveiling of the faces of believers, is only the next step. In 4.3 it is the Good News which is veiled, but as that Good News is of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (4.6) it may be seen as supporting the idea of the unveiled face of Jesus Christ.
If the thought is of the unveiling of the glory of Christ, we may see us as gazing in rapture upon His unveiled face, even though not seeing Him in the fullness of what He is, and thus being made more and more like Him. We become what we fix our attention on (compare 1 John 1-3), and our attention is on Him.
But if the thought is of the veil being removed from our faces, then the idea is that once the veil has been removed we become like that happy person of verse 16. For we are all (all we who are Christians) are then seen as beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, just as Moses did when he went into the presence of the Lord after taking of the veil. We are no longer of those whose understanding is limited by a veil, our veil has been removed. And like Moses we can enter the presence of God unveiled. And there we can behold the glory of the Lord, although only as in a mirror, for the fullness of His glory would be too much for us.
In the final analysis the significance is the same. There is now nothing which hides us from seeing the glory of the Lord, save the fact that we are limited by what we are able to receive.
And the result of our beholding His glory is that we are transformed into the same image, we are made like Him, moving from one level of glory to another (Philippians 3.21), and all this we have from the Spirit of the Lord. ‘The same image.’ We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3.2).
‘Moving from one degree of glory to another.’ This may mean that as we polish the mirror by growing in grace and reading His word, the glory of the Lord that we behold increases, or it may mean that our glory increases stage by stage until we achieve full glory at the rapture or the resurrection. Or it may include both, for the idea is that the more we see of His image, the more we become like Him, until we are conformed to His image (Romans 8.29; Galatians 4.19). This is in contrast with those who fail to see the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, because their minds are blinded (4.4).
The alternative possible translation ‘reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord’ provides a beautiful picture, but does not fit so well into the context which is based on Exodus 34.29-35, especially as the idea of the veil continues.
‘Even as from the Lord the Spirit.’ This would confirm that he has Christ as the life-giving spirit of 1 Corinthians 15 in mind in context. He is not saying that the Lord is the Spirit, in the sense of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. But that the Lord is active Spirit, just as God is Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is Spirit. All work spiritually within man.
Such A Ministry As Has Been Depicted makes Clear That Its Ministers Are Not Corrupt Because It Is Conducted In God’s Glorious Light And Reveals the Unmatchable Glory of God in Jesus Christ Even Though The Bearers of the Message Are But Earthen Vessels (4.1-7).
Paul will now argue that no one could conduct such a ministry as has just been depicted unless they themselves were genuine and sincere. For it is all about the light of the glory of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (4.4 compare 1 John 1.5-10) which shines in men’s hearts so that no sin can remain hidden. How could they who look with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord be guilty of fickleness or duplicity? But he admits that they have this treasure in earthen vessels, like the earthenware lamps in their houses contain the light, so that all the glory might go to God. They are but the earthly containers of the true light. Indeed that explains why they are so insignificant in themselves
This last fact is then illustrated by the afflictions they face, which do not, however, concern them because their faith is placed firmly in the One who will raise them and present them before Him. Thus they can ignore their bodily decay, for they look forward to the eternal glory.
The section from 4.1-6 links back to 2.14-17. Once again we have reference to those who are perishing (4.3 compare 2.15); corrupting God’s word (4.2 compare 2.17) under the eye of God (4.2 with 2.17); and the communication of the knowledge of God (4.6 with 2.14). But there it was the fragrance that wafted out, here it is the light.
It also refers back to chapter 3 for it expands on the idea of the light that has been veiled, a greater light than that on the face of Moses. So the whole passage is a unity.
4.1 ‘Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtained mercy, we do not faint.’
Having such a ministry which results in the unveiling of men and women (3.18) so that they can behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (verse 6), or in unveiling Jesus Christ so that men can see Him, something which they themselves have also obtained through His mercy, how can they faint? It would be inconceivable.
‘Even as we obtained mercy.’ Paul’s life is lived in remembrance of the mercy of God, and he assumes others’ lives are too. He could never quite get over how God had reached him when he was a renegade and a rebel, working to keep the veil on men’s minds and hearts. But God had been merciful and this makes him press on against every obstacle.
‘We do not faint.’ The verb has a variety of meanings, ‘do not get discouraged’, ‘do not despair’, ‘do not cease working’, ‘do not get tired’, ‘do not have an aversion to it’, and so on. They do not let obstacles get in their way or find it distasteful.
4.2 ‘But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.’
He stresses again the honesty with which they preach. They have turned their backs on hidden and shameful things. There are no attempts at a subtle popularising of the message. They do not seek to shape their words into fine oratory, as did most speakers of the day. Compare 1 Corinthians 1.17; 2.1, 4. They do not walk with cunning. They do not change the meaning of the word of God to suit themselves (a genuine danger among Jews in Greek surroundings who like Philo interpreted the Scripture metaphorically. There may have been some such at Corinth).
Rather they speak openly and honestly (compare 3.12), they unveil the truth clearly, and thus they commend themselves to men’s consciences in the sight of God. There is nothing in what they say that can disturb people as to its truth, and they are happy that God sees all that they do and teach.
Unlike the false teachers Paul will not try to recommend himself by other means. he does it simply by the truth of his message (compare 1 Corinthians 2.4). For he knows that to hearts that are open that truth will commend itself.
4. 3-4 ‘And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in those who are perishing, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them.’
But Paul recognises that still their message will be veiled to some, for there will always be those who do not understand, whose minds are darkened. And that is because of the veil on men’s minds placed there by the god of this world. So if their Good News is veiled it is veiled in those who are perishing, those who have rejected the light, those who choose to walk in darkness (compare John 3.16-21). But there is more to it than that. Their darkness is the result of the fact that the god of this world has blinded their minds, and that is why they do not believe.
For it is his Satanic aim to prevent the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, dawning. He keeps the curtains drawn so that the light might not flood in. And our responsibility is to draw back those curtains so that His light might shine on men and women. In one sense the coming of Jesus was the major drawing back of the curtains, but those whose hearts were veiled were unable to see. But when the curtains are drawn back in each individual life by God through His servants then they see, and see clearly.
‘Those who are perishing’ are also those who in their hearts are the unbelieving, whose minds are blinded (the equivalent of veiled) by the god of this world. Without the truth of Jesus Christ man will die eternally (perish). The point may be that man was unbelieving (unresponsive towards God) prior to the work of blinding, and that the god of this world simply ensures the continuation of the unbelief, although both continue together. There is a hint here that those who are demonstrating in the Corinthian church that their minds and hearts are still veiled should recognise that they are still unbelievers and are therefore perishing because they have failed to see the true Good News of the glory of Christ.
‘The god of this world (aion - either ‘world’ or ‘age’).’ This is Satan. See further on 11.13-15. In the temptation narrative he was able to offer to Jesus the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them (Matthew 4.8-9), because he was the world’s god. He is also ‘the prince of this world (kosmos)’ (John 12.31), ‘the prince of the power (evil kingdom - Colossians 1.13) of the air’ who is at work in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2.2), ‘the air’ indicating a spiritual realm which is not heavenly. But his rule is that of a usurper who will finally be defeated by the Heavenly Rule of God. The spread of the Gospel represents God taking back His dominion by revealing His true light in men’s minds and hearts though Jesus Christ, in contrast with the false light which Satan has brought (11.14).
‘The light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Jesus said, ‘I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness’ (John 12.46). And again, ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8.12). So the life imparted in the new covenant, is the light that shines in the hearts of those who are His. The light has shone into their hearts and they have received His life. This is the glory against which the unbeliever’s heart is blinded. And it is a far greater glory than shone on the face of Moses.
And what is the Good News? Essentially it is Whom Christ is, and what He has done to save those who believe on Him. He is ‘God’s image’, the complete revelation of God and of the light of His glory (see John 1.18; Colossians 1.15), the glory so often revealed in the Old Testament, revealed first in creation, and then in human form, and now revealed in the hearts of those who believe. For from eternity Jesus has shared that glory with the Father, ‘before the world was’ (John 17.5). And Satan’s aim is that it will not ‘shine’ on men and women, or be ‘seen clearly’ by them. For once that has happened, once they with unveiled face ‘behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord’ (3.18), then he will have lost them. When they turn to the Lord the veil is taken away (3.16).
4.5 ‘For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.’
For the purpose of Paul and his fellow-workers is not to preach themselves. They are not concerned to be ostentatious or make much of themselves as though they had spiritual importance. Rather their aim is to preach ‘Christ Jesus as Lord’, and themselves as mere slaves of Jesus Christ. And they had also come to them as slaves for His sake. They sought nothing for themselves but service. The use of ‘your’ prevents us from seeing ‘servants’ as indicating prophetic office.
‘Christ Jesus as Lord.’ The anointed One who came into the world as a human being and was crucified for us but Who is now revealed as ‘Lord’, the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the Creator, the One Who is over all. He is the Lord of glory, the One to whom every knee shall bow, and yet also the Crucified One Who died for our sins (1 Corinthians 1.18; 2.2; 15.3. See especially Philippians 2.5-11).
4.6 ‘Seeing it is God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness”, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’
And what has brought them to such ‘slavery’? Why should they delight in being slaves to God? It is because of the fact that the great Creator who once said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness’, has shone in their hearts to give ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ This links what they have experienced with God’s purposes in creation (Genesis 1.2-3), with the coming King (Isaiah 9.2, 6), with the covenant (Isaiah 42.6-7) and with world salvation (Isaiah 49.6).
And those who see that light no longer cry that it may be veiled. As they look at the face of Jesus Christ (as once Israel looked on the glory on Moses’ face) they see there the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, a knowledge that far surpasses all other knowledge, and their hearts are won for ever. They see God and their hearts are totally captured. And they go on and on looking at Him in worship and adoration.
‘Light shall shine out of darkness.’ This is not a direct quote from Genesis 1.3, although that must be seen as in the background. It is indeed not a direct quote at all, but a summing up of what God has revealed in His word. We may consider for example Isaiah 9.2, ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’, the light of the coming royal child of Isaiah 9.6; or Isaiah 42.6-7 where God’s coming Servant is to be ‘for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles’ who are in darkness; or Isaiah 49.6 where the Servant is again to be ‘for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be My salvation to the end of the earth’. This is the light which God causes to shine out of darkness.
‘The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ Herein is the Gospel, that men are so changed by the work of God within that they gaze on His glory revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. Others may speak of their spiritual experiences, even of their spiritual manifestation, but if they do not lead to this they are nothing. To be truly saved is to be taken up with Christ as true God and true man, and to recognise that the fullness of God is revealed in Him. He is the image of the invisible God, and all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him in bodily form (Colossians 1.15; 2.9).
4.7 ‘But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves.’
However, although God has shined in their hearts and they therefore carry within their inner selves something of the glory of God, they do not thereby boast. For they recognise that that glory is contained in earthen vessels. The comparison is with the earthen vessel that contained the oil and the wick which gave off light in people’s homes. The earthen vessel is but a cheap container, it is not itself the light. Therefore none should look at the earthen container, they should look at the light within to see whether it is genuine or not. And if they look at the light that Paul reveals he has no doubt what their decision will be.
There may also be behind this the idea of God as the potter and we as the clay. The vessels are made by God and can be broken or not as He will. It is God Who determines all that will happen to them (Jeremiah 18.1-6; Isaiah 45.9).
The Fate Of The Earthen Vessels Through Whom God’s Glory Is Revealed (4.8-18).
Having been described as earthen vessels, the practical application of this is now made. As earthen vessels which bear the message of the Glory of Christ they can expect nothing but trouble from the god of this world, for he who drove Jesus to His death will surely seek to drive them to the same destination eternally. But again he will fail for behind them is the One Who raises the dead, the Victor over death.
That is why they are unafraid, because they know that whatever afflictions he brings on them they will be as nothing compared with the glory that awaits.
4.8-10 ‘We are pressed on every side, yet not pressed in; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.’
As earthen vessels that bear the message of the glory of Christ they are also subject to the sufferings of Christ (compare 1.5). As He suffered in this world, so must they. They bear about in their body the dying of Jesus. But this is so that they might openly reveal the life of Jesus, both by their teaching and their behaviour, and by what they are. So their sufferings actually demonstrate that they are true bearers of His light.
‘We are hard-pressed (afflicted) on every side, but not pressed in.’ Here Paul is entering into the experience of the Psalmists. Compare Psalm 3.1 LXX; 34.19. There are no escaping the surrounding pressures, but he will not allow them to box him in. This includes the pressures of the Corinthian situation (see 7.5). ‘Perplexed, yet not to despair.’ Often they do not know what to do, and wonder why they are experiencing what they are, but it does not lead them to despair. ‘Pursued, yet not forsaken.’ They were persecuted and hunted down (as once Paul had persecuted and hunted down others), but God never forsook them. ‘Smitten down and yet not destroyed.’ It is sometimes as though they have been wrestled to the ground, but they survive and rise up again. They are not destroyed (they do not perish).
‘Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus.’ Paul may have in mind the treatment through which Jesus went from His arrest to His final breathing of His last, ‘the dying of Jesus’, which could be seen as beginning when His ‘hour had come’ (John 13.1). In His final hours He went through affliction and tribulation, and clearly bore their marks. So do Paul and his fellow-workers experience affliction and tribulation, which leave their marks on them, and even face the threat of constant death.
4.11 ‘For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.’
There is now a swift movement from ‘dying’ to spiritual ‘dying’ (compare 1.9 with 1.10). Through their experiences ‘we who live’, that is have spiritual life in Him, are ‘delivered to death’. They are given the opportunity to die to self and sin, to die daily, and this is for Jesus’ sake (compare 5.14). This significance is demanded by the phrase that follows. And the purpose is so that the life of Jesus may be openly revealed in their mortal flesh, that they may be revealed as alive in Him, and he alive in them, that Christ might be seen in them (compare Galatians 2.20; Romans 6.4; Philippians 3.10-11). Their self dies that their ‘life’ might shine through.
Note the reference to ‘mortal flesh’. The body is weak and could die at any time, and yet through it is manifested the life of the risen Jesus, which will continue on when the body in its fleshly form is there no more.
4.12 ‘So then death works in us, but life in you.’ A further contrast is given, that the death that works in them, crucifying their flesh with its worldly hopes, affections and desires (Galatians 5.24), results in life working in the Corinthians.
The picture of the faithful servant of Christ ministering in difficult conditions is aptly described in verses 7-11. Things can press them in, bear down on them, perplex them, almost crush them, even seem to knock them down, but always God is there to stop them from being boxed in, to stop them being crushed, to prevent despair, to enable them to get up again and carry on. And as they experience these things they may rejoice in that they are sharing the sufferings of Christ, so necessary for the ongoing of His work, and that through their dying with Christ their lives are being purified so as to ensure that their experience of ‘dying’ results in life in the church.
It is noteworthy that in this section Paul refers constantly to ‘Jesus’. He is closely aligning his words with Jesus’ earthly life and death. They walk as He walked.
4.13 But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak.’
But, he points out, these things do not defeat them, for they have the same spirit as the Psalmist who said, “I believed and therefore did I speak’ (Psalm 116.10). This is taken verbatim from LXX, where it refers to a time of great affliction as here. What the Psalmist did was based on his faith. So the thought is that because of their faith in the resurrection (verse 14), their words match their faith and enable them to triumph over affliction.
4.14 ‘Knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you.’
For their certainty finally lies in their faith in the resurrection. It is that that makes all else explicable. They know that He Who raised up the Lord Jesus, will also raise them up with Jesus. The ‘with’ may indicate the expectation of the Parousia but can equally refer to the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). This is the final goal of Paul’s ministry that makes all worthwhile, the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ, the transformation of the living Christians, the opening of the graves and the resurrection of those who sleep, and the final presentation before God. For then He will present them before Him along with the Corinthian Christians who will share in the Parousia.
We note that in his presentation of the glorious hope awaiting them he includes the Corinthian Christians. His confidence is that they too will be presented before God. His ministry through suffering will not have been in vain. It is after all for them, as well as for others, for whom he undergoes what he does. (Some powerful authorities omit ‘Lord’. That may have been to align this with the other references to ‘Jesus’).
4.15 ‘For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.’
For, he points out, all that he has described as being what he and his fellow-workers are going through is for the benefit of the Corinthian Christians. It will result in God’s unmerited favour and active compassion being multiplied ‘through the many’, resulting in thanksgiving that abounds to the glory of God. ‘Through the many’ may simply mean in them, or may have the added meaning that that grace will then reach out through them. Either way God will be glorified.
4.16-18 ‘For this reason we faint not. But though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’
And it is because of his concern for the welfare of their spiritual lives, and, we could add, for the welfare of the spiritual lives of all their converts, and because of the grace of God that he knows to be at work, that he and His fellow-workers do not faint or get discouraged. They consider that what they are going through is nothing in the light of eternal blessing, and is momentary in comparison with eternity. Their outward body may be decaying, but what does that matter? Their inward man is being renewed day by day ready for the day of full renewal.
We must not, however, see this as distinguishing body from soul. Paul does not see things that way as he has clearly demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 15. That was the view of his opponents. What Paul means is that a man’s body is composed of physical and spiritual elements, and that while the physical elements are decaying and will cease (for flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingly Rule of God - 1 Corinthians 15.50), the spiritual element is being constantly renewed ready for its resurrection at the last day.
And he then goes on to ask, what is their present ‘light’ affliction in view of its glorious purposes and results? Why, it is only temporary and is ever more and more producing for them, to a greater and greater abundance, an eternal weight of glory. Here ‘glory’ indicates all the blessings of God of the future, their treasure laid up in Heaven and added to by God. Note the contrast between the ‘light’ affliction, and the eternal ‘weight’ of glory. What comparison is there between the one and the other?
Thus in view of this they are not looking at what can be seen, they are looking beyond them to the things which cannot be seen, to the attitudes of heart, of love, faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13.13), which are preparing them for the coming day of glory, and to the multiplied blessings that await them once that day has come. And this is because the things that can be seen are only temporal, and passing away, while the things that are not seen are eternal.
In other words, they are setting their minds on things above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God, and not on things on the earth (Colossians 3.1-4). While on earth their spiritual lives are lived in the heavenly places, in the spiritual realm with Christ (Ephesians 1.19-2.6), in faith, love and hope. And they are always looking forward to the time when they will be transformed and become men and women with spiritual bodies in heaven, enjoying His perfection for all eternity, enjoying the resting place He is providing for them (John 14.2).
The Reason Why They Are Setting Their Minds On Things Above (5.1-10)
The thought of looking at what is unseen, rather than at what is seen, now leads on to a consideration of the resurrection of the body. Paul visualises the glorious future that awaits all who are His. Not for the Christian the nakedness of death, but a renewed, spiritual, eternal body in the heavens.
5.1 ‘For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.’
Paul now declares his confidence in a bodily future after the resurrection. He tells us that if ‘the earthly house of our tabernacle (that is, our earthly tent house) is destroyed’ we have something more substantial, a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. There is here a deliberate contrast between what is temporary, a tent on the one hand and what is permanent, a building on the other. As a tent maker he was well aware of the temporary nature of a tent, however strong they tried to make it, and that something ‘made by hands’ would never be fully satisfactory or perfect. None knew better than he the problem of combating wind and weather. But the ‘building’ in heaven is made ‘without hands’. In other words it is made by God and is therefore permanent, durable and perfect. It has nothing of earthly imperfections. Its builder and maker is God. There is the contrast between what is destructible and earthly, on the one hand, and what is ‘not made with hands’ and therefore ‘eternal in the heavens’ on the other. All the frailty of earth is replaced by the solidity and permanence of heaven.
In Paul’s mind the use of ‘earthly’ must be seen as reminding us that man was made of ‘the dust of the ground’ (Genesis 2.7), of that which was earthy and corruptible, of that which lived, and struggled, and died. But once we rise again we leave all that is earthy behind, for our bodies are renewed as a spiritual body, permanent, indestructible, and heavenly, and wrought by God Himself.
The ‘that if’ refers to the fact that many will not die but will be caught up in the Parousia (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). They escape ‘destruction’ of the body. Although ‘destroyed’ might signify his own recognition that he might have a violent death, of which he is unafraid. However, in the end all earthly bodies decay and are destroyed, so all are in the end subject to destruction. For ‘a house not made with hands’ compare Mark 14.58. It indicates something made by God, something not earthly, but far superior in form and essence.
So the thought is of a better body, a spiritual body, which is permanent and incorruptible, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 15.20-58. ‘We have -.’ It is promised to us and is the future that is in store for us. It is our certain hope.
Some have taken the permanent building as referring to something similar to the many abiding places of John 14.2, as though the thought is that when we leave these decaying bodies we will have a permanent resting place. Others have referred it to the heavenly Temple or to the heavenly ‘body of Christ’ in which all who are in Christ will have their part, and both are gloriously true, but while they may be true that is probably not the idea here. The contrast with the earthly tent suggests emphatically that the heavenly, spiritual body of the believer is in mind, and this is confirmed by verse 4, where we are to be clothed upon and what is mortal is to be swallowed up in life.
So our heavenly building is to be heavenly, permanent, and God-built, which is the guarantee of its perfection.
‘We know.’ (’oidamen). A particular knowledge given in the mind of believers, but the fullness of which is not yet experienced.
‘The earthly house of our tabernacle.’ Our ‘earthly tent house’. That is, as we are, in frail flesh, as opposed to the reality of what shall be. But the tent is ourselves, not just something in which we dwell, although there is more to us than tent, for there is the spiritual seed which will be the foundation of the transformed body (1 Corinthians 15.42-45). The idea of the tent may include the thought that we are but travellers and pilgrims awaiting arrival at our destination (compare 1 Peter 2.11). Others see behind it the idea of the frailty of the Tabernacle compared with the solidity of God’s permanent Temple. Either way the emphasis is on its temporary nature.
5.2-3 ‘For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven, if so be that (or ‘inasmuch as’) being clothed we shall not be found naked.
The contrast goes on. In our earthly tent we groan (or ‘in this situation we groan’), we are afflicted, we suffer hardship. We long to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven. The ‘longing for’ stresses that it is still future. That is not because we are sick of life but because amidst the toils of life we look forward to something far, far better. The Greeks who thought about it groaned because they wanted to get rid of their bodies. They wanted to be ‘free spirits’. They thought that getting rid of their bodies would solve their problems. But Paul groans because he wants the perfect heavenly body rather than his imperfect one. He wants to be transformed in himself. He does not want to be ‘naked’.
But then he enters a caveat lest any wrongly assume that such will automatically be theirs whatever the state of their hearts before God. ‘That is if we are one of those who will be so clothed, and not one of those who are found naked, that is without a resurrection body, because we are not in Christ.’ We can compare 1 Corinthians 9.27 for such a sudden application of the thought that none should be presumptious.
The thought of ‘nakedness’ appals Paul. It not only signifies being ‘without a body’, but also signifies ‘laid bare to God’ with no hope of mercy, and no means of atonement. They would be ‘found naked’ at the judgment, deeply and despairingly aware of their nakedness, and their sinful state, as Adam and Eve were in the Garden after they had sinned (Genesis 3.10). Babylon's punishment was to have its nakedness exposed and its shame uncovered (Is 47.3), and fallen Israel’s judgment was that it would be left naked and bare, with its shame exposed to all (Ezekiel 23.29). Compare Isaiah 20.2-4; Ezekiel 16.7; Hosea 2.3. This is the fate of all who do not respond fully to Christ in faith and trust.
5.4 ‘For indeed we who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened, not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life.’
Then he continues and expands on the thought, having very much in mind those who deny the resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15.12). It is true that in our earthly tents we groan because of our earthly state. But our burden and our groaning is not so that we will be released from an unworthy human body, as the Greeks believed, for we do not desire to be unclothed, but rather we desire that our present bodies with their frailty and weakness will be transformed, and that at the resurrection we will be ‘clothed upon’, clothed as with an additional outer garment, and become a superior body.
This is what 1 Corinthians 15.42-49 is telling us, where it says that the resurrection body will be in some ways a continuation of the spiritual aspects of our old body, receiving an eternal ‘covering’ in which it has a part, so that what is mortal may become eternal, ‘mortality swallowed up in (eternal) life’. The picture here is vivid, being swallowed up by ‘life’ like Jonah was by the whale. But in this case we become a part of what swallows us up. We become absorbed into eternal life, and that life becomes absorbed into us. (Just as Jonah would eventually have been absorbed into the whale had he stayed in the whale’s belly). The reason therefore that we groan is that we are awaiting the redemption of our body that we might be swallowed up in eternal life (Romans 8.23).
We must not overpress illustrations that speak of things beyond our understanding. The idea of being ‘clothed upon’ rather indicates that what we have at present is unsatisfactory and comes short and therefore needs enhancing. But it does not mean that we have to be stripped down. God has no intention of unclothing us, Paul says, rather He will improve our situation totally, He will more fully clothe us. Thus death for the Christian is not to be seen as an unclothing, but as resulting in a taking on of something far, far better, which relates to and vastly improves on the old.
5.5 ‘Now he who wrought us for this very thing is God, who gave to us the earnest of the Spirit.’
And this glorious future is guaranteed to us because God has fashioned us for this very purpose (Philippians 3.21), working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure in ways beyond our understanding (Philippians 2.13), saving us, and moulding us in His image (Romans 8.29), that He might present us perfect before Him (Colossians 1.22; Ephesians 1.4; 4.13; 5.27; Hebrews 10.14). And this is all guaranteed to us because we have been given the Spirit as ‘an earnest’, a sample and guarantee of the future (compare 1.22), His seal on us until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4.30). That is why if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is none of His (Romans 8.9). And the Holy Spirit and all He is to us is a foretaste of the glory that one day we shall know.
5.6-8 ‘Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight); we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.’
So Paul is never permanently downhearted. His spirit is always strong. No threat concerns him. He is of good courage. It is true that while we are at home (en-demeo) in the body we are absent, away from home (ek-demeo) from the Lord, that is, absent from Him in His visible presence. For we walk by faith, and not by sight. We enjoy His presence by faith, even though we do not see Him. But one day we will be absent from the earthly, visible body and present with, and at home with, the Lord, something for which we are willing and eager. (‘With’ is pros with the accusative which indicates close personal inter-relationship - compare its use in John 1.1). Then we will enjoy His visible presence. This in itself confirms that he does not see the state after death as one of nakedness. He would not have said that he preferred a state that he looked on with distaste. Nakedness without a body is a state he does not want. All this continues the thought of not looking at the seen but at the unseen.
So our present home is our natural, physical body on earth. But we have an addition to our home that we will one day in the future enjoy in the visible presence of the Lord, our future spiritual bodies which will arise out of what we are now. In verse 8 the verbs are in the aorist, indicating the once-for-allness of the situation.
The question in all this is whether we are to see Paul as speaking only of the resurrection body, or as also including our state when we die and are ‘with Christ’ (Philippians 1.23) prior to the resurrection. Verse 6 would suggest that both situations are in mind, without giving a clear indication of what the pre-resurrection state will be like. For it is the final state that matters.
One thing, however, he does make clear, and that is that even there we will not be just ‘naked souls’. We will not be unclothed. To him that would have indicated not being whole, and he cringed from the thought. We must finally leave the solution of this question with God, although there is possibly a clue in the verb ‘clothed upon’. When a man dies the physical side of his body drops off but the ‘seed’ of the old, which becomes part of the new, remains. He is still in some way clothed in the renewed spiritual aspect of the old body.
And one thing that we can be sure of is that such a state was something that Paul looked forward to and eagerly desired, for he makes that clear in Philippians 1.19-23. It was not yet the best, but it was still far better until the best shall come. However the question of an intermediates state did not seem an important one to the early church for they were constantly awaiting His coming, and so it is spoken of little.
5.9 ‘For this reason also we make it our aim (aspire), whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing to him.’
So whether at home in the body, or absent from the body, and present with the Lord, they make it their aim to be well pleasing to God. That is what is central to all life. Being pleasing to God. And their commitment to this while on earth is enhanced by their belief in the resurrection, and their dedication to ‘pleasing Him well’ is strengthened by it.
Alternately ‘at home’ might be thinking of heaven, with our present life as therefore being seen as absent from where we truly belong, as verse 8 might suggest.
5.10 ‘For we must all be made openly revealed (laid bare) before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad.’
Note the ‘we must’. It is a divinely ordained necessity. So why is being well-pleasing to Him their aim? Because they know that one day all Christians must be ‘made openly revealed’ before the judgment seat of Christ. This seat is like the reward seat at the Games. It is a place where those who are His receive the reward for good things done in the body, and experience the sadness at reward lost because of the useless things, because of their failure at times to be fit enough. Compare 1 Corinthians 3.10-15; 4.4; Romans 14.10-12. It is a time when all who are His will receive praise from God, for all will have something to offer as worthy of reward (otherwise they are not Christians), and all will be aware that they could have done better.
There is no reason why this judgment seat should be differentiated from the judgment at the last day or the great white throne of judgment (Revelation 20). (For details on this go to Revelation) The point is rather that the Christian comes to it to be judged on a different level from the unbeliever. The unbeliever is judged on the whole aspect of his rebellion and disobedience to God’s Law. For him it is the criminal court. For the believer that is behind him. The charges have been met and dealt with in Christ. What he must account for is his service as God’s steward. For him it is the employment tribunal. What is good will be preserved. What is useless and worthless will be burned up.
God’s Ministry of Reconciliation (5.11-6.2).
Having spoken of God’s work in the heart through His Spirit, and of the new covenant, followed by the revelation of the Christian’s future by means of the resurrection, Paul now goes back to the basis of it all, man’s reconciliation with God. If men are to know these things that he has described there needs to be a new creation. And man needs to be reconciled to God, a reconciliation which is only found in Christ through the cross.
But before he can press home that message he feels he must again bring out his own genuineness in comparison with those who are all outward show.
5.11 ‘Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are openly revealed to God; and I hope that we are also openly revealed in your consciences.’
Paul now emphasises, in the light of the mention of the judgment seat of Christ, that what he and his fellow-workers do is through the fear the Lord, not in the sense of terror before a holy God, for that is for unbelievers, but as an evidence of reverence and awe in view of the responsibility that is theirs, and in the light of the One to whom we are all accountable. The Master has sent us forth, he says, and we therefore need to live our lives so as to be ready to give an account of ourselves to Him when He returns and calls us to account for our stewardship (Luke 12.35-48 and often in the ministry of Jesus).
So he stresses that he himself and his fellow-workers do know that awe and reverence. They are constantly aware of the One with Whom they have to do. And it leads on to the fact that they constantly seek to ‘go on persuading’ men in accordance with what their need might be. Some they seek to persuade to the truth, others to right behaviour. And still others, like the Corinthians, they seek to persuade as to the validity of their ministry. They use persuasion in whatever way will further the cause of God, for they want to receive the maximum ‘well done’ from God.
And they do this knowing that, all the time, what they are and what they do is openly revealed to God. Nothing is hidden from Him. Their fear of Him reminds them that He Who will one day bring all things into the open is already aware of those ‘all things’ (compare Hebrews 4.13).
‘But we are openly revealed to God.’ Nothing is hidden from Him. There may also be behind this statement the idea that they deliberately bring their lives before God daily that He might scan them and bring to light any failure of heart or attitude. The idea may be that they encourage in themselves an openness before God in their prayers, precisely because they want to be ‘openly revealed’ before Him so that they might know that the path they take is the right one. And knowing that they are so openly revealed, and that they still have peace in their hearts as a consequence, will satisfy them that that they are on the right path. But in the end it is simply a statement that God knows all their hearts.
‘And I hope that we are also openly revealed in your consciences.’ Confident that God knows all and is satisfied with his ways, he puts it to the Corinthians to now look at their own consciences and come up with their opinion also. He hopes that the consciences of the Corinthians will give him similar clearance to that given by God. He is still sensitive as to the way they had so easily been persuaded to take up an attitude against him. The appeal to their consciences suggests that the appeal is to each individual. Each must judge for himself on the basis of his conscience how they will see things and what view they will have of him (compare 4.2).
5.12 ‘We are not again commending ourselves to you, but speak as giving you occasion of glorying on our behalf, that you may have that by which to answer those who glory in appearance, and not in heart.’
He assures them that they do not speak like this seeking commendation. They are not into trying to get commendation. Rather do they want the Corinthians to recognise their genuineness so that the Corinthians themselves might be able to glory in what they are, both before God and before ‘those who glory in appearance and not in heart’. Paul, they will be able to say in his defence, does not put on an appearance, a preaching show, he speaks from the heart. He is genuine and true.
‘Those who glory in appearance, and not in heart.’ This has in mind his opponents. They put on a great show. But their glorying is in the wrong thing. They consider outward show more important than the message that comes from the heart. So the Corinthians will be able to compare him with them.
5.13 ‘For whether we are beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is to you.’
Indeed some of his opponents may say that they were mad. Probably this has reference to his constant statement that they must share the sufferings of Christ, and to the constant dangers they were willing to face, claiming that they were of God. Not being themselves willing to face such outlandish dangers (such as Paul will describe in the following chapters) their opponents rather declared that Paul and his fellow-workers must be ‘mad’ to face them and take up that attitude. Would not God have kept them out of danger? Well, says Paul, we do it ‘to God’. It is God Who leads us and requires this of us, and we can only follow. So they do ‘mad things’ for Him because that is what He has showed them, and because loving Him they are ready to behave with such ‘madness’. It was not the last time that those who heard the call of God and forsook all for him were to be called mad. For some it is true today.
‘Or whether we are of sober mind, it is to you.’ On the other hand their ‘madness’ as they obey God is in contrast with the sober-minded way they deal with God’s people. Their ‘madness’ as described, can be contrasted with a sober mind in ministry. Both arise because of their sole purpose, which is in order to be able to bring benefit to God’s people, including the Corinthians. So let them recognise that while they might be described by some as somewhat ‘mad’ in what they do, let that be left to God’s judgment. It is not a madness that affects their ministry. That is carried out in full sober-mindedness towards its beneficiaries. For you, he says, we are totally sober-minded. Our thought is concentrated on what will benefit you the most.
The suggestion that ‘beside ourselves’ refers to ecstatic worship is countered by the fact that Paul nowhere sees spiritual gifts as any other than controlled. Their use does not result for him in the kind of behaviour that is likened to madness. And as he only uses tongues in private they would not know how he prayed. He would not therefore be likely to speak of them as suggesting he is beside himself for this reason. (Unless of course someone had seized on his statement that he prayed in tongues more than all, and seen it in the light of the behaviour of some in the Corinthian church meetings).
5.14-15 For the love of Christ constrains us (‘grips us tightly’), because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died, and he died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again.
For what they do, they do because they are constrained by the love of Christ, the love that Christ has for them (it could mean the love that we have for Christ, but the immediate reference to the cross points to His love for us). They are gripped by His love. His love for them, revealed through the cross, moves them to reveal a similar love for others. Was He willing to die for them? So were they willing to die for others. Did He show His love for them? So will they show their love for others.
Indeed the death of Christ was such that they ‘all’ partake in it. He died ‘for all’ (that is for all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile), and 1 Corinthians 15.3 tells us it was ‘for our sins’. And in that fact that He died for all, all died. His death for sins was counted on their behalf. The fact that the latter ‘all’ must refer only to Christians suggests that the first does also.
So the dying figure on the cross suffered for the sins of all who would be His. And as He died, we died in Him. His death comprised in itself a multiplicity of deaths, the deaths of all who would be ‘in Him’. The sentence of death on sin was being paid in Him for that innumerable multitude. That this has substitutionary force cannot be reasonably denied, although we can also include representation. He died in their place and as their representative, and thus they consider themselves as having died with Him (Galatians 2.20). His death is put to their account so that the law cannot condemn them. It has been satisfied by their having died in Him (Galatians 3.10-13) and it can no longer point the accusing finger (Romans 7.6). For if it did we would boldly reply, ‘I have already died in Christ. The price I owe has been paid.’
And the final purpose in His dying for all was so that those who did die with Him may no longer live to themselves, but to Him Who for their sakes died for them and rose again. They are to consider themselves, as they once were, as ‘the old man’, as having died so that their lives no longer belong to them. They must reckon themselves as dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6.11). And they must reckon themselves, as they are as the new man, as having risen with Christ, and therefore as being under obligation to God to live as He lives. For they have been raised in Him into heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6) and must live heavenly lives as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3.20).
The further significance of the cross is that those who come to receive the benefit of it in forgiveness of sin and in salvation (‘for our sins’), then recognise that as He died on the cross so did they, and they therefore recognise that being dead to sin they must live as dead to sin. They must die to all that put Christ on the cross. They must crucify the flesh with its affections and desires (Galatians 5.24). And they must see themselves as having risen in Him to a new life, so as to please the One Who Himself also died and rose again for their sakes. They must let Him live through them. In the words of Paul elsewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live. Yet it is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself up for me’ (Galatians 2.20). He recognised that Christ was now living in him, and desired to live through him. Thus his life from that time was a life offered to the One Who loved Him. This is why the Corinthians can recognise the genuineness of his message and of his concerns.
5.16 ‘Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more.’
The result of recognising what Christ has done for us in dying and rising again is that we look at everything differently. From now on we do not judge men from a human point of view. From now on we see them from the point of view of heaven. We see them as either believers or unbelievers. We see even the most righteous as sinners before God. We see the once depraved sinner who has been converted as a child of God, pure in God’s eyes. Nor do we differentiate men into Jew or Gentile, dividing men on the basis of race or religion. We know all men in terms of whether they are believers, whether they belong to Christ and are God’s true people, or not.
We even see Christ differently. We may previously have seen Him in terms of His earthly sojourn, and what He was then. We may have judged Him on our own prejudices. But now we see Him totally differently We see Him as the risen Christ, as the Lord of all. We know Him as the One in Whom we died, thus finding deliverance from sin, and from Whom we have received new life. A failure to see Christ like that was probably one of the failures of the later mentioned ‘pseudo-apostles’ (11.4).
5.17 ‘Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new (or ‘the old has passed away, the new has come’).’
As a result of that if any man is in Christ he is a new creature, newly created in Christ. When a man is ‘in Christ’ through his response to the word of the cross everything is changed for him. All the old things, his old life, his old ambitions, his old aims, are passed away. He is a transformed person. His whole life has become new. He is a new creation. He lives only for Christ, and as it were allows Christ to live out His life through him (verse 15). He is born anew of the Spirit (John 3.5-6), and made a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4).
Alternately this could be translated, ‘there is a new creation’. Both translations are equally possible, and the word does normally refer to ‘the creation’ elsewhere. But the meaning then is almost the same. It means that for the man in Christ the whole creation becomes new. He looks at everything in a different way, and from a different point of view. He has entered into the new beginning, the Kingly rule of God over His ‘new’ creation, which has come in Christ.
However, the continuation from verse 16, and the statement in verse 15 strongly favour that we see it as meaning ‘a new creature’. The point there is that such a one is different, and that is why he sees things so differently. He is a totally new person. On the other hand the transition to ‘all things’ in verse 18 has been suggested as favouring ‘a new creation’, (although ‘all things’ can probably there mean something else).
The word ‘new’ means ‘something different from before’. It means here totally new. He is a transformed person. What is common to both interpretations is that for the man in Christ life changes. He has a new perspective. He lives a new life. He is thus a ‘new’ person.
5.18-19 ‘But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.’
Having been tightly grasped by the love of Christ, and having experienced the powerful effect of the word of the cross, and having been made one with Him in His death and resurrection (verses 14-15), we see both men and Jesus from different perspectives to what we had before (verse 16), and we have become new creatures in Christ (verse 17). And now he stresses that all this is of God.
‘All things are of God.’ Whether it be our salvation in Christ, the newness of our thoughts, or the new creatures that we have become. All that happens to us spiritually (‘all things’), is because God has taken the initiative and reconciled us to Himself through Christ Jesus.
Alternatively he may simply be making a general declaration that everything (‘all things’) that happens is of God, and especially His reconciling work.
Either way he is declaring that it was God and God alone who brought about the means of reconciliation and, as a result, our reconciliation to Him. It was God Who took the initiative, through Christ, as a result of which the consequences he has described followed. Paul probably has very much in mind the way that God arrested him on the Damascus road (Acts 9). His mad career was brought to a sudden halt by the sovereign power of God, Who reconciled him to Himself. Yet in the end it is true for all who come to Him. He chooses whom He will reconcile, and then brings about the reconciliation (indeed in one senses has already brought it about) through Christ (see Ephesians 2.13-18; Colossians 1.20-22). All we can do is respond to His initiative, as Paul did.
The need for ‘reconciliation’ suggests that there is enmity and hostility to be dealt with (Colossians 1.21). Once Paul had not thought of himself as hostile to God. He would have sworn that he was God’s true servant. That was why he had persecuted the Christians. But God had been forced to show him that his attitude to Christ demonstrated his enmity against God. He was rejecting what God really was. He was at enmity with God’s demands (compare Romans 8.7; Ephesians 2.15-16; James 4.4). The same is true for all men. They may have a general belief in God. But their hearts are not with Him. Their hearts too are at enmity with Him as is proved by their lives (Romans 1.18 following). All therefore need to be ‘reconciled’ if they are to know God (see Romans 5.10). And that does not just mean that they are willing to be reconciled, it means that somehow God has to become reconciled to them and what they are.
For God is ‘hostile’ to us because of what we are, because of our sinfulness and rebellion. It is not that He wishes enmity, it is that in us there is that which arouses His abhorrence, that which He cannot overlook, because it is contrary to His nature. So the result must be that God has a moral antipathy towards us because of our sin. That being the case provision has somehow to be found for the removal of sin, that sin which is abominable in God’s eyes, for while our sins are still reckoned to us God cannot be reconciled to us because He is holy and just. But through His death Christ has made it possible for our sins not to be reckoned to us, simply because once we believe in Him they are reckoned to Him. Thus can we be reconciled to God, and He to us, by believing in Him.
And having reconciled us to Himself God has now given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Are we now reconciled to Him? Then He wants the offer of reconciliation to be taken to others. It is not for us, and for us alone. There are more whom He would call. And what is the message? It is that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses (misdeeds, that in which men fall short)’.
‘God was in (or ‘through’) Christ.’ This may mean that God was actually acting in Christ, that Christ was to be seen as God at work. But had the incarnation been specifically in mind we might perhaps have expected reference to ‘Jesus’. So if we translate ‘in’ the emphasis is more on God being in Christ in His pre-incarnation being (1 Peter 1.20), predetermined to die from the foundation of the world (Acts 2.23) as the One determined from the very beginning, although resulting in the incarnation and crucifixion. Alternatively we may better see it as meaning that God was Himself acting ‘through and in Christ’ in His work of redemption.
The offer now being made to ‘the world’ makes it clear that God has established a means of reconciliation which is open to the whole world. If man was to be reconciled to God, brought back into acceptability and friendly relations with Him, a means which made that reconciliation possible must be established. It was not just a matter of man laying down his arms. What he had done in the past, which had aroused God’s antipathy to sin, had somehow to be dealt with. And it was in Christ that God did all that was necessary for that reconciliation to be made possible, so that it could be offered to men and so that their sins might not, if they believed in Christ, be ‘reckoned against them’. He dealt with the cause of enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Ephesians 2.1; Romans 7.11) which pointed the finger at us and our sin, by bearing the punishment in His own Son. He Himself paid the price of sin (1 Corinthians 6.20; 1 Peter 1.18-19; Titus 2.14). He made a way of atonement, of ‘at-one-ment’, a means by which what was contrary to Him could be removed (Romans 3.24-25; 1 John 2.1-2), so that we could come to Him. And He accomplished it through the death of His Son.
It should be noted that elsewhere Scripture makes perfectly clear that all will not be reconciled. The point is not that all will be reconciled, but that what He has done is qualitatively sufficient for such reconciliation, yes, more than sufficient. If need be it would have been sufficient for a thousand universes. It is infinite compared with the finite. So if men refuse it they only have themselves to blame.
5.20 ‘We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we plead on behalf of Christ, be you reconciled to God.’
‘Therefore’, because a way of reconciliation has been made possible, we who are His, and reconciled already to Him, have a responsibility as ‘ambassadors’, as those sent to represent Him, bearing His authority. We go on behalf of Christ, just as though God was entreating through us, and our message is, ‘We plead, on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.’ Our ministry is a ministry of reconciliation. Not a reconciliation between man and man, although that will follow, but a reconciliation with God. And Paul is making clear that he himself is such an appointed ambassador.
This ‘plea’ is not a plea in weakness. It carries behind it an implied threat. Peace has been offered. An amnesty is available. But if they are not willing to truly believe and be reconciled they must bear the consequences.
This may be seen as simply a general description of what his message and purpose is all about, that as God’s ambassador his is a ministry offering reconciliation with God to the world, as God entreats through him, or as a specific plea to certain of the Corinthians, whom he perceives by their behaviour to be in a doubtful position, to make sure of where they are with regard to God (compare 6.1; 13.5).
5.21 ‘Him who knew no sin he made sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’
And finally he gives the full basis of that reconciliation. It is because the perfect One, the sinless One Who knew no sin (1 Peter 2.22; Hebrews 4.15), was ‘made sin’ for us. Our sin was in some way absorbed by Him. Just as in the Old Testament the offeror laid his hand on the sacrifice indicating that his sin now lay on the sacrifice, so was our sin laid on the greater Sacrifice, to be borne by us no more. There lies behind this the idea of the sacrificial suffering of the Servant in Isaiah 53.10, and indeed in the remainder of Isaiah 53. Being made sin He bore the consequences of sin. He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3.18). And the result is that we become the righteousness of God in Him. Rather than being full of our sin, which has been laid on Christ, we become full of God’s righteousness (either His righteousness or the righteousness which He has provided in Christ), which enclothes us and possesses us (Romans 5.19). Just as Christ absorbed our sin, so do we absorb His righteousness. Now we can approach God without fear of rejection, because we approach Him radiant in the righteousness of Christ. Thus are we fully reconciled to God.
‘Him who knew no sin.’ The verb means to ‘know in experience’. In the Garden the tree was the tree ‘of knowing in experience good and evil.’ In the first man, the earthly man, all partook of that tree, and became sinful (Romans 5.12-14). And in a sense all men continually taste of that tree for all being aware of good continually choose to experience evil, proving that they are sinful. But Jesus, the second man (1 Corinthians 15.47), the man from Heaven, knew no sin. It was something outside His experience. He knew only good. That was why He could be the unblemished sacrifice (1 Peter 1.19). The introduction of this idea here stresses the source of the righteousness of God which can be imputed to us. It was the Righteous One.
‘The righteousness of God.’ God is the standard of all righteousness, and therefore the righteousness of God is righteousness in all its perfection, it is perfect righteousness. And it is that righteousness that is required for reconciliation. And in Christ it is not only accounted to us but implanted within us by His Spirit, the one to ensure our acceptance with God, the other to write it in our hearts that it might be revealed in our lives (3.3). For the similar idea of righteousness imputed and imparted to us in Christ see 1 Corinthians 1.30 where ‘He is made to us -- righteousness’. See also Philippians 3.9.
6.1 ‘And working together with him we entreat also that you do not receive the grace of God in vain.’
So as those who are His ambassadors, as those who are ‘workers-together’ with Him (compare 1 Corinthians 3.9), we are therefore to plead with men that they do not receive the grace of God in vain. Here it is especially Paul speaking to the Corinthians, and even more especially to those who were opposing him. It is directly they who are in mind. God’s unmerited favour has reached out to them through the Spirit, and through His ambassadors, and he is concerned lest it be ineffective. Their very presence among God’s people ensures the continuing activity of God’s grace towards them. But let them make sure that they have responded and been open to the gracious working of God, or if not let them now respond to His call, otherwise it will be in vain. Lest they be found to be the seed that sprang up, but then withered and died (Mark 4.16-17), or the withered branches that had appeared to have been a part of the vine, but because they had no life had to be cast forth and burned (John 15.1-6), or the man who had built his house on sand so that it collapsed (Matthew 7.26-27).
‘In vain.’ Having achieved nothing, being empty, useless.
Others see it as a plea that they ensure that they do not remain stagnant in their Christian lives, that they put into practise the words of 5.15-17, so that they have that which is good to present at the judgment seat of Christ (5.10). But the next verse might rather be seen as supporting the first. He wants to urge the certainty of their response to the day of salvation.
6.2 ‘For he says, At an acceptable time I listened to you, And in a day of salvation did I succour you. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’
In order to support this urgency he cites Scripture. ‘At an acceptable time I heard you,’ (that is ‘heard and responded’), says God. ‘In the day of My deliverance I succoured you.’ When God’s time came, and come it now had, He would hear and succour those who professed to be His people in order to seek to bring them to Himself and save them fully. And that time, says Paul, is now. God has now begun His final saving work. The time is His accepted time, it is His day of salvation. Let them not be sure that they do not miss out on it.
The words are taken from Isaiah 49.8. They were spoken to the Servant of the Lord as He too was seen as beginning His saving work, the work which Paul and his fellow-workers were now carrying on. The past tenses signify the certainty of that future work, ‘I listened and responded, I succoured’. The application is then made by Paul declaring that they too must ensure that they participate in and be a part of the Servant’s work by submitting to Him, lest they be left out and find that it is too late, that God’s day of salvation, His acceptable time, has passed..
As Workers Together With God Paul Now Further Cites Their Own Credentials As Those Who Share In The Sufferings of Christ (6.3-10)
The following description of their genuineness and of all that they are going through for Christ continues the thought of verse 1, verse 2 having been a slight digression to press home the fact of the urgency of his plea. This would see ‘working together with Him’ (‘with Him’ assumed but not stated in verse 1) as indicating ‘with Christ’. They are entering into the fellowship of His sufferings (1.5; Philippians 3.10). They are workers together with Him in the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11.29-30; Philippians 4.3). This is not only a vindication of his own ministry but is in preparation for a plea to the Corinthians to avoid compromise with the world by yoking themselves with unbelievers.
6.3-5 ‘Giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed; but in everything commending ourselves, as ministers of God, in much patient endurance: in afflictions, in necessary hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings.’
Paul wants them to know that he and his fellow-workers take great care not to behave in such a way as to cause any to stumble, or even to give cause for stumbling, so that discredit might come on their ministry. Rather do they bring credit on their ministry in various ways, through what they bear for Christ’s name. They are true ambassadors for Christ in every way. Note the contrast of ‘giving no occasion of stumbling in anything’ with ‘commending ourselves in everything’. Paul’s dedication to serving them faithfully is wholehearted, both in what he does not do and in what he does do.
‘In much patient endurance.’ They endure hardships patiently. The introduction of ‘much’, distinguishing this from what follows, suggests that this is a heading under which the next nine items should be subsumed. What follows is then describing in more detail what they have patiently endured. This thought of patient endurance reopens the ideas with which the letter began (see 1.4-7, especially verse 6), and is constant throughout. As the Corinthians eat and drink with their idolatrous associations (6.14-16; 1 Corinthians 10.7, 18-21) Paul and his co-workers endure with much endurance, they eat and drink of the sufferings of Christ because they are yoked to Him (Mark 10.38-39; 14.36).
It is then followed by a ninefold cluster, (the first item of which, ‘afflictions’, was prominent in 1.4-7 compare also 2.4; 4.8, 17; 7.4; 8.2, 13), which can be split into three threes, the first three describing their sufferings in general terms, ‘in afflictions, in necessarily determined hardships, in distresses’, the second amplifying the detail, ‘in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults’, and the third describing how they countered it, revealing their durability, ‘in labours, in watchings, in going without food’.
The Greek word for afflictions (thlipsis) refers to the pressures and anxieties of life that come our way. They may be external or internal ("conflicts without", "fears within," 7.5), although the term is regularly used of the harassment and affliction of God's people at the hands of the world. Ananke refers to hardships which must necessarily come on those who would serve Christ faithfully. They are sharers in the sufferings of Christ (1.5). Distresses (stenochoria) refers to being in tight corners or in narrow straits with no apparent way of escape, like an army platoon under attack in a long narrow pass with no space to manoeuvre or retreat, so that all they can do is fight on and press forward.
The second group of three is ‘in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults’. Their afflictions included an element directly resulting from men’s hostility, whippings and beatings, periods in prison, and riotous, hostile crowds. They were not loved by the world.
‘Beatings’ refers to physical blows that occurred as a result of mob action or court punishment. Paul reveals elsewhere that he was lashed on five occasions by Jewish authorities and whipped on three occasions with Roman rods (11.24-25). With regard to imprisonments, Luke records only the imprisonment in Philippi prior to the writing of 2 Corinthians (Acts 16.16-40). But Paul informs us in 11.23 that he had been imprisoned a number of times, more times than his opponents, although we do not know when and where. Riots occurred in many cities that Paul visited. They were often incited by Jewish antagonists who were envious of Paul's success among the Gentiles, and sometimes because their activities affected trade, especially as connected with idolatrous Temples.
The third group is ‘in labours (hard work and effort), in wakeful nights, in self imposed abstention from food.’ For ‘labours’, that is, ‘hard, physically demanding work’ compare 10.15 for labouring in the Gospel, and 1 Corinthians 4.12 for labouring to support himself. He laboured in both ways, both spiritually and physically. ‘Wakeful nights’ may well refer to nights of prayer, but may also include those caused by sleeplessness because of the burden he bore for the people of God (see 11.28-29), which would indeed no doubt result in prayer, and those caused by his many travels under all kinds of conditions. ‘Self imposed abstention from food’ might occur because of the demands on his time that left no time to eat, or because of his desire not to make himself a burden on anyone so that he took food when he could, but may also indicate times of fasting so as to be able to concentrate on prayer, although if so it is not stressed.
6.6-7a ‘In pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God.’
Paul then goes on to describe his own personal and moral attributes. His deep troubles do not embitter him. Rather through Christ they produce within him the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22), purity, understanding, longsuffering and kindness. These all result from the work of the Holy Spirit, and the genuine love He produces within (compare 1 Corinthians 13.4). They present a full-orbed description of the life of a servant of God who should seek to be pure, truly knowledgeable, longsuffering and kind.
Hagnotes (purity) only occurs here but the more common cognate hagnos ranges in meaning from an inward disposition such as purity of heart (11.3) to outward behaviour ("innocent," 7.11; "chaste," 11.2; "without defect," Philippians 4.8; "blameless," 1 Timothy 5.22). Its connection here with longsuffering and kindness suggests that it includes a right and blameless attitude to those with whom he has dealings (compare 1.12; 4.2; 6.3).
‘Knowledge’ (gnosis) comes next , and may refer to "insight" (Phillips), or "understanding" (NIV), or a "grasp of truth" (NEB), a knowledge of genuine spiritual truth and an awareness of people and how to deal with them. It includes the God-given ability to know the right thing to do in a given situation because soaked in the Scriptures. This contrasts with the knowledge of some among the Corinthians (11.5; 1 Corinthians 8.1-2) which produced only pride, and was airy fairy and without consideration for others.
This is followed by long-suffering. This word is frequently used in the Old Testament of God's long-suffering attitude toward his people. It represents tender concern and loving patience toward those whose failings would normally provoke anger and annoyance.
‘Kindness (Chrestotes) is the fourth quality. It represents the capacity to show kindness even to the weak and undeserving and to evidence a sympathetic interest in the problems of others. It is goodness in action. All these have their source in love.
The genuineness, thoughtfulness, long-suffering and kindness that Paul exhibited arose from himself enjoying the experience of the compassion that Christ has for His own. It was ‘in the Holy Spirit’, that is, it resulted from His work within, and was the consequence of His producing genuine unfeigned love, of His making sure the word of truth within, which thus possessed Paul’s heart, and of His continual provision of ‘the power of God’. The one who has the right foundations of love, truth and God-power will exhibit the right attitudes and response.
‘In the Holy Spirit.’ It is often asked why ‘the Holy Spirit’ should appear in a list of attributes, and some have therefore sought to see it as an attribute (e.g. ‘holy spirit’), but the reason is not hard to find. He wanted first to draw attention to the outward aspects of behaviour and attitude, for they are the manifestation of ‘patient endurance’ as he emphasised at the beginning, but he also wanted them to be aware of the source of it all. To have listed all the others without their source would indeed have seemed like boasting. Furthermore ‘in the Holy Spirit’ can be seen as including all the other virtues which he has not had space to include (Galatians 5.22), and is especially connected with the idea of unfeigned love which follows (1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5.22).
He follows the mention of the Holy Spirit with the marks of genuine ministry, which are themselves the work of the Spirit. Fullness of unfeigned love (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 15.30; Galatians 5.22; Colossians 1.8; 2 Timothy 1.7), being immersed in the truth (John 14.17; 15.26; Ephesians 5.9) and in its proclamation (compare 5.14-21), and the experience of God’s infinite power (compare 1 Corinthians 1.18 where word and power are connected; and 2.4 where Spirit and power are connected, contrast 4.19). Without these our ministry is indeed vain. Perhaps they should be listed in every pulpit. It is these which result in the gold, silver and precious stones of 1 Corinthians 3.12-15.
6.7b ‘By the armour (‘weapons’) of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.’
This next series commences with ‘by’ or ‘through’, and is a series of contrasts pointing to his positive approach to life. The weapons or armour of righteousness are on both right and left hand, the one possibly having in mind sword or spear, the other shield or knife, all used both for attacking and defensive purposes. Or it may refer to armour which protects on all sides. For the essential idea is that the warrior is fully protected and is equipped for both attack and defence. To consider the fuller ideas lying behind this we can turn to Ephesians 6.10-18. They are ‘put on’ by establishment in, and use of, the truth of the word of God.
‘The armour/weapons of righteousness.’ Compare the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ (Ephesians 6.14). The idea is taken from Isaiah 59.17. There the idea is of vindication and deliverance. It describes the triumph of God in ‘righteousness’, whereby He righteously delivers and brings righteousness to men and men to righteousness. Thus through God it is righteousness which triumphs, and Paul also goes forward in Him, armoured in His active and redeeming righteousness, (as do we - Ephesians 6.14), to bring men to reconciliation and salvation (the righteousness of God - 5.21). The Corinthians can therefore be sure that he uses only righteous methods.
But righteousness also protects. Thus we are protected from all assaults of the enemy because we are immersed in the righteousness of God (5.21), and accounted as righteous in God’s sight, and because we live righteous lives, a righteousness which, being lived out, confuses our opponents (1 Peter 3.16). Thus we must see ‘righteousness’ here as God’s righteousness in all its many facets as it works in and through our lives.
6.8-10 ‘By glory and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.’
The life of the godly man is a life of contrasts. On the one hand glory, glory in God’s working, glory in His goodness, glory in His truth, and on the other dishonour, the mockery and contempt of the world, the being treated as dirt for His sake (1 Corinthians 4.13). And it must be expected, for those whom God honours, the world will despise. And he goes on to show that it is a life where the eyes must be set firmly on what is not seen, a life which does not seek or glory in the world, but is lived in the heavenlies (compare 3.18; Colossians 3.1; 1 John 2.15). He will then shortly bring out that this is in direct contrast with that of many of the Corinthians.
‘By evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true.’ On the one hand the godly man will be attacked and spoken against and treated as a deceiver. Every possible weapon will be used to destroy his reputation. And on the other there are those who will speak well of him (then let him especially beware of himself), and see him as a man of truth. Both attitudes towards Paul were found among the Corinthians.
This again all arises because some look at what is seen, and some at what is unseen (4.18). We may see here reflected the afflictions and encouragement of 1.4-9. For those who would serve Christ experience both, the one to refine and purify, the other to maintain and strengthen.
‘As unknown, and yet well known.’ The man of God may be irrelevant to the world, and to those who see themselves as superior, being seen as a nobody, an ‘unknown’, and yet may have good standing among, and be honoured by, God’s people. (Some of the Corinthians may have been saying how insignificant Paul was in men’s eyes and their own).
‘As dying, and behold, we live.’ He may here be referring to being physically and mentally disorienated and ill-treated and often left for dead, a stark contrast to the eternal life within him, but more likely the thought is of his dying to the world, its approval, aims and attractions, with the contrasting blessing referring to the enjoyment of eternal life and the joy of living for Christ and His aims, thus having true life which is life indeed (compare 5.14). (The literal dying in fact goes together with the spiritual dying. He faces such suffering precisely because he has died to the world),
‘As chastened, and not killed.’ He may be being chastened by tribulation, which he knows will produce godly effects within (Romans 5.2-5), but he is confident that the chastening is to do him good. He has not been killed as a result of God’s judgment on him (compare 1 Corinthians 11.30-32). Thus he knows that his chastening will be for his ultimate benefit, and is not finally judgmental. God’s intentions are good in all that happens to him, and there will be a limit on what His own must endure. Compare here Psalm 118.17-18 which he might well have had in mind.
(Note. If this is to be seen as a contrast like the other pairings, he is contrasting chastening, which was an act of God’s love, as against being killed as an act of deserved judgment. He is not saying that those who were martyred were to be seen as having been judged. In their case the death itself would be seen as a triumph and a gateway to glory, not a judgment).
‘As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.’ He may be sorrowful over his afflictions, and over his sins, and over the sufferings of his own people (Romans 9.2-3), and over the lack of spirituality and growth in the churches, and yet he is constantly filled with rejoicing over all God is doing for him and through him, and for the churches, and because of evidences of the many who do prosper spiritually, and because his mind is set on things above, and especially because it is set on Christ Himself.
‘As poor, yet making many rich.’ He may have little of this world’s goods, or consider himself as poor in spiritual virtues (even as ‘the chief of sinners’), but what does that matter if he is making many ‘rich’ by his ministry of the word of God, and by the goodness and generosity of his life and self-giving. That is what counts with him. He is preparing others to enjoy spiritual riches.
‘As having nothing, and yet possessing all things.’ He may in fact be bereft of everything, with no possessions in this world, and yet he knows that in Christ he possesses all things (1 Corinthians 3.22), and will possess them (Hebrews 11.6, 10, 26; Matthew 19.29). He lives in enjoyment of God’s inheritance which He has given to His own (Colossians 1.12; Ephesians 1.14; 2.7). And that is what determines the course of his life.
So does Paul make clear the ups and downs of his life as he seeks faithfully to carry out his ministry, and on what his mind is finally set. This is what makes up his life. And they have only to consider for themselves whether a man who lives like this is genuine, or is mainly out to deceive, or is simply play-acting. All this is a reminder for us that for us too the Christian life can be a life of contrasts. It will not be all plain sailing. All those who would serve Christ must endure the downside as well as enjoy the fullness of blessing, and it is by how we respond that men will judge us.
But his final stress on having the mind set on things above now leads on to a warning to the Corinthian that they too ensure that they live in the same way. This is the kind of earthly things that he is taken up with, but he fears that they are too taken up with earthly things of another kind and will miss out on God’s best, or even miss out altogether (6.1).
Having Confirmed His Own Credentials And His Own Way of Living He Pleads For A Them To Turn From All That Might Hinder Them and For Their Equal Full and Exclusive Response to God and to Christ (6.11-7.1).
Having spoken earlier of ‘receiving not the grace of God in vain’, and having then justified his own ministry, and shown how he certainly has not received the grace of God in vain, Paul now returns to his concern for the lack of full response in the Corinthian church. The continual compromise of the church with idolatry and the ways of the world clearly concerns Paul. While he and his fellow-workers are, in their way of life, being constantly weaned from the world, he feels that the Corinthians are associating themselves too closely with the world and are dallying with things that might drag them down. They are associating too closely with what can only harm them. Their lives are going in the very opposite direction to the one he has just described. They may have become reconciled to God, but their ways cannot be reconciled with God.
In his case the world has forced itself on his attention by its antagonism or contempt. It has shown itself for what it is, and he has found solace in spiritual things, and looked to the things that are unseen. But in contrast their hearts are set elsewhere. They are looking to what is seen, and finding solace and fulfilment in that. They are finding the world pleasant and attractive, and he fears that they might find it too attractive, in a way that is marring their spiritual lives. He therefore calls on them rather to follow his example and to be enlarged in their Christian lives, keeping from the yokes of the world, from intimate association with what can only harm them, (including the marrying of an unbeliever and connection with idolatrous cultic associations), and setting their minds on the living God. They should aim to be fellow-workers with God, not fellow-associates in things that will drag them down,
6.11 ‘Our mouth is open to you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged.’
He begins his plea by stressing his total honesty and strong affection for them. Naming them by name, always a sign of his strong feelings (compare Galatians 3.1), he stresses that his mouth is open to them, and his heart is enlarged. In what he says he is hiding nothing from them, and is speaking freely because of his love for them, and for their good, because his genuine longing and desire is only for their good.
6.12-13 ‘You are not straitened in us, but you are straitened in your own affections. Now for a recompense in like kind (I speak as to my children), be you also enlarged.’
He stresses to them that it is not his affections and loving concern for them that are narrowed and hemmed in. He has not allowed himself to be affected by their failure of loyalty towards him. He still loves them like a father. There is nothing that is limiting his affection. But rather it is their affections for him that are restricted. They are too constrained by the things around them, and are withholding their full affection from him and from Christ. So he now pleads for reciprocation and enlargement of their affections in response to his own, because he looks on them as his dear children.
And with a view to that enlargement he will now go on to deal with the things that they have been setting their affections on which have caused the present situation, and calls on them to recognise that their hearts are wrongly taken up with false attractions, and that they must therefore separate themselves from them before they destroy them.
6.14-15 ‘ Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever?’
The problem is that they are having too close a relationship with secular things and those who are not believers. Instead of being properly yoked together as fellow-workers together with God they are unequally yoked together with what is incompatible with their faith. This comes out in the way that they are willing to tie their lives in with the ways of unbelievers in a binding way, in marriage to unbelivers and too close association with idolaters, without thought for the long term consequences. This helps to explain their lack of affection for Paul and for Christ. Their unequal yokes are preventing the enlargement of their affections towards what is right.
For the Christian there is always a fine line between keeping in touch with the world and its ways, and being sucked in by it. Keeping in touch is fine (1 Corinthians 5.10), but becoming obligated to it and having too close an association with it is folly. Thus he warns them about tying themselves in with unbelievers, whether by marriage, binding partnerships, or any kind of commitment that might restrict them in their Christian lives and witness. This includes putting themselves in a position where the course of their life can be determined by others who have secular rather than heavenly aims. In view of the strength of the comparisons that follow (iniquity, darkness, Belial, idols) we must probably see this as very much having in mind certain idolatrous associations, whether the participating in sacral meals in heathen temples, being members of trade guilds where acknowledgement of idols was necessary, or membership in some other such organisation, and even sexual misbehaviour through Temple liaisons. (It is tempting to think that there may have been an association or guild which connected itself with Belial or a god who could be paralleled with Belial).
‘Unequally yoked.’ Let them consider that it is important that when two animals are yoked together they be compatible. If they are not the result will do grave harm to the task in hand. For example an ox and a donkey will not make good yoke-fellows (Deuteronomy 22.10), and will wreck any attempts to achieve anything through such a compromise. In the same way Christians must not yoke themselves with those with whom they do not fit spiritually, those who have different aims, or who wish to go in a different direction, or whose methods might result in compromise. For under a yoke, either both are aiming for the same thing, or compromise is inevitable, and if they are yoked to unbelievers that is the road to disaster.
We can compare, for example, how he had reprimanded them for allowing their legal disputes with one another to be arbitrated by the secular courts ("in front of unbelievers," (1 Corinthians 6.1-6). How he had admonished them for joining with pagans in their cultic meals with the resulting compromise of loyalties (1 Corinthians 10.6-22). How he had had to rebuke them for approving of sexual unions with prostitutes, possibly cultic prostitutes (1 Corinthians 6.12-20). These and other such activities are in mind here.
He then applies this more specifically to their situation as Christians (and more specifically to ours). ‘For what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever’
‘For what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity?’ How can those who seek to walk in righteousness with God, and have ‘become the righteousness of God’ (5.21), live lives in common with, or associate closely with, those whose hearts are set on iniquity, on inward thoughts of evil? Righteousness and sin do not go together. One or the other will soon have to give way, for they are totally incompatible. There can be no compromise with sin. Yet those who are yoked to sinners will find themselves constantly having to do exactly that.
‘What communion has light with darkness?’ Again light and darkness are totally incompatible. Introduce light and away goes darkness. Thus both will have to live in semi-darkness. Neither will be comfortable. This is true whether it be the light of Christ in contrast to the darkness of unbelief and sin (John 3.19-21), or the light of righteous living (Matthew 5.16) in contrast with the darkness of selfishness and self-seeking (Matthew 6.22-23). For we who are Christians have been made partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, and have been delivered from the power of darkness (Colossian 1.12-13). How then can we return to the dark? Consider also Romans 13.12 where the armour of light is in contrast to the works of darkness, stressing their incompatibility; 1 Thessalonians 5.5; Ephesians 5.8, 11-14; Colossians .
‘And what concord has Christ with Belial?’ Here is the greatest contrast of all. Christ and Belial are totally incompatible. Belial is probably another name for Satan and in the Old Testament (where it is not a synonym for Satan) represents the ideas of worthlessness, rebellion, evil and lawlessness. See especially 1 Samuel 2.12, where the ‘sons of Belial’ contrast with the idea of knowing ‘the Lord’ by showing their disobedience to Him.
But the most significant reference is in 2 Chronicles 13.7, where the ‘sons of Belial’ having rebelled against the house of David, and therefore against God’s anointed (christos), chose to look to the golden calves, thus being divisive, and bringing about the great divide between Israel and Judah. This example alone might be seen as justifying the comparison, and explain Paul’s use of it here, for it fits exactly. The ‘sons of Belial’ reject the anointed one of God, and destroyed the unity of God’s people by consorting with idolatry. In contrast those who are Christ’s rejoice in God’s Anointed, and in Him are thus again one united people. So they must choose which they will follow, Christ or Belial.
But in intertestamental literature, especially at Qumran, Belial had become a personal enemy of God, prince of demons and possibly a synonym for Satan, which would give deeper significance to the above references. And it may well be that such an idea was known in Corinth, possibly through Judaisers, otherwise why use it in this letter? (Paul may even have been termed by them a ‘son of Belial’, drawing out his sarcastic comment that Satan has fashioned himself into an angel of light - 11.14).
6.16 ‘And what agreement has a temple of God with idols? For we are a temple of the living God, even as God said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” ’
We note the progression that has been leading up to this, righteousness and iniquity; light and darkness; Christ and Belial; and now the living temple of God and idols. God’s people have been made righteous (5.21); have received light (4.4-6); are in Christ, in God’s Anointed (1.5; 2.14, 15; 5.17) and have thus become the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3.9, 16-17; 6.19). This is in contrast with those who live in iniquity; walk in darkness; are ‘sons of Belial’; and are caught up with false gods.
Idols were ever to be wholly excluded from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and Israel’s sin through the centuries lay partly in their introduction of idols into His Temple. It was their failure to put these away that was continually levelled against them, and exclusion of idols from the temple had become paramount in the eyes of all Jews after the Exile, as accentuated by what had happened under Antiochus Epiphanes when a pig had been offered in the Temple to Zeus. Thus the Temple of God and idols were seen to be totally incompatible, and no one would be more aware of that than Paul.
Yet that the Corinthians were dallying with idolatry has come out in 1 Corinthians 8; 10.7, 20-22, 24-31. Is this not partly an explanation of their attitude towards him? They do not like his strictures on their way of life. They want to dally with idolatry, claiming that they scorn it. Now Paul seeks to bring home the lesson more firmly. Enough is enough. Let them now recognise, as those who are Christ’s, the incompatibility of all that is to do with idols.
Let them consider the words of God. Has not God said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Thus they themselves are the temple of the living God, even as God said, and must therefore have no connection with idolatry. There is no place in the Temple of God for idols. These words are a paraphrase of Leviticus 26.11-12, which reads, ‘And I will set my dwellingplace among you, --- and I will walk among you, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’
The verb translated live with (enoikeo) means to "inhabit" or "be at home," and the idea is active rather than passive. It is a stronger word than to ‘tabernacle’ among them. So God is dwelling among them permanently and is at home with them as their Lord. His kingship has been established. The next clause actually means to "walk in and around" (en [in] + peri [around] + pateo [walk]). God does not merely exercise his rights as Lord but moves with authority as their Lord from one section to another.
The third clause, ‘I will be their God and they will be my people’, is a recurring promise of Yahweh to Israel in the Old Testament. The first occurrence is in Leviticus 26.12, but it also appears in Jeremiah 31.33, 32.38 (connected with the new covenant) and Ezekiel 37.27 (connected with the everlasting covenant); see also Ezekiel 11.20; 36.28. It is a confirmation that the covenant has been ratified. There is now a movement of emphasis from the dwellingplace to the covenant, and the language is that of a great lord to a vassal. We may note in this connection how, in the immediately preceding verse, the LXX has "I will put my covenant among you" (compare the Masoretic Text, "I will put my dwelling place among you"). Under the terms of the treaty that bound king and vassal together, the king agreed to deliver and protect the vassal, and the vassal promised sole allegiance and obedience. That is why the worship of God and fraternising with idolatry was fundamentally incompatible as Paul has just brought out. They cannot have communion with Christ and communion with devils (1 Corinthians 10.16-21). They cannot have Christ and Belial (the worthless one). They must choose. The connection with the covenant ties back with 3.6-14
6.17 ‘Wherefore “Come you out from among them, and be you separate,” says the Lord, “And touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be to you a Father, And you shall be to me sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty.’
So in response to His sovereignty and the ratification of the covenant they must come out from the world and be separate, avoiding contact with all that is unclean, that is, in this context, all that is connected with idolatry and the sins connected with it. This may refer to food known to have been offered to idols, or to the temple catamites and prostitutes, or to sexual misbehaviour, or all of these. Jesus, however, went further. He defined unclean in the New Testament sense in these terms, ‘fornication, thefts, murders, adulteries, coveting, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, ranting and raving, pride, foolishness’ (Mark 7.22). All such uncleanness must be avoided.
Paul’s words are possibly based on Isaiah 52:11, where the command to ‘come out from there, touch no unclean thing’ is given but it is not intended to be a direct quotation. It is the idea rather than the actual literal Scripture which he saw as important. God’s people must come out to Him from the world and separate themselves to Him leaving behind all that is unclean. Since He takes up His home among us, they in turn (as we are) are called to separate themselves from everything that is incompatible with his holiness. The verbs are aorist imperatives (exelthate, aphoristhete) indicating that immediate and decisive once-for-all separation is called for.
‘Says the Lord.’ This is not in the text of Isaiah but is Paul’s addition to stress from Whom the command comes.
The pledge is then given that if His people will obey Him, then God will receive them and be a father to them, and they, in turn, will be to Him sons and daughters (verses 17-18).
I will receive you is possibly drawn from Ezekiel 20.34 LXX ("I will receive you from the countries where you had been scattered," ). The second part is taken from 2 Samuel 7.14, "I will be his father, and he will be my son." Paul sees God's promise to David, that he will be a father to Solomon, and that Solomon will be a son to him, fulfilled again in God's relationships with His people. But the singular son is here changed to the plural sons, and the phrase ‘and daughters’ is added, possibly under the influence of Isaiah 43.6, "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth". There is to be a family relationship and family affection between God and his people.
This whole string of Old Testament part references concludes with the phrase ‘says the Lord Almighty’. The phrase is a familiar one in the LXX (but unique in Paul). The term pantokrator, which translates the Hebrew seba’ot, is commonly rendered "almighty" but actually means "master of all things" or "ruler of all". With this phrase Paul emphasises the awesome truth that it is the One who rules over all Who chooses to dwell among us and be our Father.
This use of pantokrater suggests that there is a good possibility that this string of loosely bound together extracts from Scripture may have been found by Paul in a record of such quotations, and that he quotes them as he found them, for the references to the Lord sound as though they are part of a quotation. He could not carry his Bible around with him. Such lists are known, for example, from Qumran. But if this be so he puts his stamp of approval on it.
7.1 ‘Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’
The result of these promises should be that they set about separating themselves to God by cleansing themselves. Here Paul firmly exhorts them to do so. The aorist tense speaks of a specific act of cleansing. He is speaking to those who have become aware that they have been falling short and hopes they will desire a renewal. This imperative, following the previous indicative, is an indication of the importance of the command. The promises in the previous verses will be fulfilled if they obey the injunction. Note the defilement is in both flesh and spirit. In this he is simply speaking of the outward man and the inward man seen as one person.
‘Let us cleanse ourselves.’ Note his exquisite tact. He includes himself in the words. ‘Together let us cleanse ourselves with a view to going forward.’ Let them be yoked with him, not with what is ‘unclean’. But how are they to cleanse themselves? The first act must surely be to come to God’s light and call on the blood of Christ for cleansing, admitting their sin openly to God (1 John 1.7-10). The second must then be to determine that from this day on their lives will be lived differently in accordance with God’s requirements and to act accordingly (compare James 4.8 and see Isaiah 1.16-17). They are to seek forgiveness and cleansing and commence positive living, abandoning what is ‘unclean’. They are to live lives of purity and truth (1 Peter 2.11).
‘All defilement of flesh and spirit.’ There is no good cause for the reference to flesh being seen as signifying ‘irremediable’ sinful flesh as in Romans 6-8; Galatians 5-6, either here or in the remainder of the Corinthian letters. Here it is rather both flesh and spirit seen together, which, as representing the whole person, have sinned and need cleansing.
While the idea of ‘the flesh’ as being defiled and in need of cleansing, and possible of cleansing, does not occur elsewhere in Paul, the general idea of the human flesh conveyed here is consistent with all other references in the Corinthian letters. In 1 Corinthians flesh regularly just indicates the human being (see 1.26, 29; 5.5; 6.16; 7.28; 10.18; 15.35, 50), although 5.5 may be the exception. In 2 Corinthians 1.17 and elsewhere it refers to the human being in contrast with being spiritual, and sometimes as weak flesh, but with no inference of ‘sinful flesh’ (4.11; 5.16; 7.5; 10.2-3; 11.18; 12.7). In Philippians 3.3; Colossians 2.5 (see also Galatians 3.3) flesh and spirit are contrasted but without flesh being seen as ‘sinful flesh’, although in Colossians 2.5 it is seen as weak flesh. Thus there is no good reason to see the reference here as meaning any other than the human body, or as being non-Pauline. His use of ‘flesh’ is clearly varied.
Elsewhere in Paul the use of ‘flesh’ as specifically sinful flesh which must be put to death is in fact limited to Romans 6-8 (eleven times); 13.14; Galatians 5.16, 17; 6.8. (1 Corinthians 5.5 is possible).
In contrast in Romans 1.3 Jesus was made of the seed of David ‘according to the flesh’. Circumcision can be ‘outward in the flesh’ (Romans 2.28). In Romans 3.20 flesh simply indicates the person. In Romans 4.1 he speaks of Abraham as being our father ‘pertaining to the flesh’. In 9.3, 5, 8; 11.14 he speaks again neutrally of his ‘brothers according to the flesh’ (that is, the Jews) and similar usages, are also found in Galatians 3.3; 4.29; Ephesians 6.12; Philippians 3.3; Colossians 2.5; 1 Timothy 3.16. In all these cases ‘flesh’ is neutral and refers to humanness. Thus its use here as defiled simply refers to the fact that such human beings can be defiled by sin.
Parallel with the unique usage of the flesh as being defiled is the unique usage of ‘the spirit’ as being defiled. But there is again nothing in his general usage of the term ‘spirit’ (except when it means the Holy Spirit) to suggest that it could not be so. It is just that as with ‘flesh’ the question never elsewhere arises. Thus while the usage could not be called typically Pauline there is no reason to suggest it is non-Pauline.
‘Beloved.’ A typical Pauline way of introducing a critical statement. He wants to press home his words by a stress on their relationship.
‘Perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’ The reason for being cleansed from defilement of flesh and spirit is that they might perfect holiness in the fear of God. This is seen as a continuing process until that day when we are presented holy before God. Those who are designated as holy in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1.2) have to perfect holiness, ever deepening their separation to God as holy (3.18; compare Ephesians 4.13), recognising the holiness of the God Whom they serve and worship. They are to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1.15-16). The thought is that if they continue their compromise with idolatry the process will be hindered, and that they may then sadly discover that they have received the grace of God in vain (6.1), because they have not allowed it to work within their lives.
‘In the fear of God.’ Walking in the fear of God resulting in their being obedient to Him is an Old Testament theme (Deuteronomy 4.10; Job 28.28; Psalm 2.11; 5.7; 111.10; Proverbs 1.7, 29; 8.13; Ecclesiastes 12.13). It is a loving awe and reverence that produces righteousness.
The Triumphant Return of Titus And Paul’s Full Reconciliation With The Corinthian Church (7.1-16)
Having searchingly examined their credentials by portraying to them the essence of the new covenant (chapter 3) and the Gospel (chapters 4-5), and having called them to depart from too close a connection with an idolatrous world (chapter 6), and to cleansing and holiness (7.1), and having also established his own genuineness, honesty and reliability as an Apostle of Christ, Paul now again (compare 6.13) calls on them to receive him with open hearts, and returns again to the theme of Titus’ visit, expressing his praise and gratitude at its successful conclusion.
7.2 ‘Make room in your hearts for us. We wronged no man, we corrupted no man, we took advantage of no man. I say it not to condemn you: for I have said before, that you are in our hearts to die together and live together.’
The appeal reflects 6.11-13, but the initial verb means to make room by withdrawal. Thus Paul is calling on them to be enlarged (6.13), to make room in their hearts for him and his fellow-workers, by withdrawing from the unequal yoke of the world, by coming ‘out from among them’ and being separate (6.14, 17), by along with him cleansing themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. Then they can make room for him and can perfect holiness in the fear of God together (7.1). And he stresses that he has done nothing to hinder this from happening. He and his companions have ‘wronged no one, corrupted no one, taken advantage of no one’
Note the stress on ‘no one’ (even more so in the Greek). The verb adikeo can denote doing wrong to someone, treating them badly. Phtheiro means to "destroy," "ruin" or "corrupt," and has a wide range of usage, and can include such things as to "bring about moral ruin, bribery, to seduce a woman" or "defile a virgin". Pleonekteo means "to take advantage of", and can mean to "exploit," or "defraud" and is often used of someone who is covetous, greedy after what belongs to others.
These may well reflect innuendoes that have been whispered behind Paul’s back and in his absence. Sexual innuendo and accusations of dishonest financial dealings are favourites with those who seek to destroy the reputation of others, and treating them badly was also one of the things that he had had to defend himself against (1.23). Certainly his emphasis on the collection for the saints in Jerusalem could be so twisted to suggest dishonest motives. These then were probably the whispers arising behind his back, but he assures them that they are simply lies.
‘I do not say it to condemn you: for I have said before, that you are in our hearts to die together and live together.’ On the other hand he does not want them to feel that he is condemning them by mentioning this. He loves them too much for that. Rather he sees them as fellow-associates, true yoke-fellows. They die together and they live together.
The idea of dying together and living together must surely have a spiritual reference. Compare 4.10-11, 14, 16; 3.6. Together they are dying to their old lives, and living the new (4.11). And though the outward man is dying, the inward man is being renewed day by day (4.16). And this would explain his claim that he had ‘said it before’ (The fact that dying precedes living helps to confirm this, but compare 2 Samuel 15.21, although the Corinthians are hardly in the same position as David’s fighting men, where death was ever a possibility).
7.4 ‘Great is my confidence (or ‘boldness of speech’) toward you, great is my glorying on your behalf: I am filled with comfort, I overflow with joy in all our affliction.’
Indeed he wants them to know that he is not speaking to them with any doubt as to their response. He speaks boldly towards them because of his confidence in them. He glories greatly because of them. For the news he had received about them had filled him full with encouragement and had comforted him, and caused him to overflow with joy in the midst of the affliction that he and his companions were facing. Note the stress on just how encouraged and joyful he was, ‘filled full’, ‘overflowing with joy’. (It was this same feeling that had caused him to recognise God’s triumphs in 2.14).
7.5-7 ‘For even when we were come into Macedonia our flesh had no relief, but we were afflicted on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless he who comforts the lowly, even God, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not by his coming only, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, while he told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced yet more.’
The ‘for’ connects back with the thought in the previous verse, as he explains it was the coming of Titus that had led on to his present sate of rejoicing. But he also now returns to the thought from which he had previously digressed in 2.13, although the change from singular to plural serves to demonstrate that it is a connection in thought rather than the fact that 7.5 once literally connected with 2.13. Even the arrival in Macedonia had given ‘them’ no relief, no rest and relaxation. The thought of his arrival in 2.13 and of its consequences had helped to trigger the digression, but now he remembers how he had felt at that actual moment. For on his arrival no Titus had been there. And their arrival had been accompanied by further afflictions and concerns. Corinth was not his only worry. And he had been very much weighed down.
‘Our flesh had no relief.’ In 2.13 it was his spirit that had no relief. The thought here may therefore be to emphasise outward further physical afflictions which came on top of the inward ones of the spirit. The contrast of the ‘without’ with the ‘within’. We are not told what their nature was. But it brought on him the sense of being afflicted on every side. ‘Without were fightings, within were fears.’ For wherever Paul went false teaching was penetrating the churches, strong minded men in the churches had their own ideas, and there were unbelievers who would attack him because his presence was a reminder of all that this new, outwardly mobile religion had meant in disturbing the old ways. And he bore ‘the care of all the churches’, which no doubt had as many difficult members in them then as we have today, and themselves often faced difficulties from outside.
We are reminded elsewhere how the church in Thessalonica faced intense opposition on more than one occasion (Acts 17.1-9; 1 Thessalonians 1.6-8; 2.2, 14; 3.1-5; 2 Thessalonians 1.4), so much so that Paul at one point was fearful that his evangelistic labours there had been in vain (1 Thessalonians 3.1-5). While in his letter to the Philippians he has cause to warn them to "watch out for the dogs," those "mutilators of the flesh" and "workers of evil" (3.2) who are "enemies of the cross" (3.18). There were ever those who followed after him seeking to undermine his work and cause trouble.
‘Nevertheless he who comforts the lowly, even God, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not by his coming only, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, while he told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced yet more.’ ‘Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that without were fightings and within were fears, God eventually brought him encouragement in the form of Titus. For, he comments, God is the One Who comforts those who are brought low. Compare 1.3-7; Isaiah 49.13; Psalm 113.6-7.
This theme of comfort and encouragement in the face of affliction was the thought with which his letter opened (1.3-7) and continues all the way through. Even Paul was human. The one kept him going in the face of the other.
In this case the comfort came through the arrival of Titus and the good news that he brought that Paul’s stern letter had been effective in thwarting the efforts of his opponent and had brought the church back to regret their behaviour towards Paul, restoring their loyalty towards him. And Titus’ detailed description of their longing now to see him again, their mourning over how they had behaved, and of the zeal towards Paul that had been restored, which had encouraged Titus as well, for he too shared Paul’s concerns, came as a great solace, indeed made him even more joyful over them than he had been before. (But it is still necessary to bear in mind that while the central point of the need for reconciliation was settled, many of the old problems yet remained, as we have seen all through).
‘He told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me.’ He wants the Corinthians to realise that he does know of and appreciate their complete turnaround. They had longed for any barrier between them and Paul to be removed, they had mourned over the situation, and they had zealously set about remedying it by punishing the offender. Compare verse 11 where he again goes into detail. It indicates to them that it was very necessary, but has his full approval. It is quite clear that he sees the church as partly reconciled to him, as here, and eager to go on, and partly doubtful, so that he has some of them in doubt and has to issue continual warnings. (This is always a problem when writing to a church as a whole, and even more so in this case).
‘Mourning’ (Odyrmos) is a strong word and commonly denotes wailing and lamentation, often accompanied by tears and other outward expressions of grief. Its only other appearance in the New Testament is in Matthew 2:18, where it is used of Rachel's weeping for her children and refusing to be consoled. To their credit they were clearly very upset at the pain that they had caused Paul. Little do we often know what pain we cause to those who watch over us.
7.8 ‘For though I caused you pain with my letter, I do not regret it, though I did regret it, for I see that that letter made you sorry, though but for a season.’
Looking back on the situation now he is glad for the pain that he had caused them (not as great as that which they had caused him) because of its consequences, although at the time it had been very painful for him as well. It had caused him great grief to write the letter, but now that he can see how it has made them sorry (although the pain will only last for a short time) he no longer regrets it.
This is always the situation with one who loves truly. They suffer equally along with those whom they make suffer, and only make them suffer because of the end in view. Those who can rebuke without pain within themselves on behalf of those whom they rebuke, should not be doing the rebuking.
7.9-10 ‘I now rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that you were made sorry resulting in repentance; for you were made sorry after a godly sort, that you might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance unto salvation, which brings no regret. But the sorrow of the world produces death.’
For Paul’s rejoicing is not in that he gave them pain, but in that it brought them to a change of mind and heart. They were made sorry in a godly way which produced ‘repentance’ (a change of mind and heart, a turnaround) and which brought them not loss, but gain. They really in the end lost nothing by it, and they gained everything. Thus the source of his rejoicing.
For that is what godly sorrow does. It produces true repentance which results in salvation, and thus brings no regret. It is only the sorrow of the world, which has no good motive or result behind it, which has a deadening effect, and in the end produces only death. Godly sorrow is the spring of hope, and results in salvation and glory Worldly sorrow has no final hope, and is the harbinger of hopelessness and death. We note here again how quickly Paul can turn from present circumstances to a contemplation of the whole of God’s saving work (compare 1.10), and the contrast between life and salvation, and death. (The contrast with death confirms that we are to see ‘salvation’ as having its fullest soteriological meaning and not as just referring to wholeness).
He is not here saying that they had not previously been genuinely saved. He is describing the essence of genuine repentance which lies behind salvation, a repentance which must be reproduced continually in the face of (regretfully) continuing sin, so as to ensure the continual saving work that will finally present them perfect before God. Our first repentance is in one sense once for all (it changes the direction of our lives and results in our being within God’s saving purposes) but there will then need to be continuing repentance in the face of continuing, although hopefully diminishing, sin, as we falter in the new way we have taken, and experience God’s continual saving presence.
‘That you might suffer loss by us in nothing.’ Some see this as more specifically having in mind loss of future reward, which is very possible. But it seems more probable that Paul means it in a general way which included any kind of loss, although clearly the idea of such future loss is a constant in Paul’s letters (5.10; 1 Corinthians 3.12-15; 4.5; Romans 14.10-12) and is included. In the commercial world the verb zemiomai could refer to loss or damage in money or material goods due to unfavourable conditions or circumstances, such as the loss in goods and lives caused by a storm at sea. Thus the thought may include the havoc that discipline could have caused if over-applied. This was, as we saw earlier, Paul's concern for the offender whom the Corinthians continued to discipline even after he repented. Had the discipline continued, the man stood in danger of being overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2.7). Paul had ensured that this had not happened to the Corinthians as a whole.
So to sum up why he rejoices,
7.11 ‘For behold, this selfsame thing, that you were made sorry after a godly sort. What earnest care it wrought in you, yes, what clearing of yourselves, yes, what indignation, yes, what fear, yes, what longing, yes, what zeal, yes, what avenging! In everything you approved yourselves to be pure in the matter.’
He now analyses for them what the result of their repentance had been. They were concerned enough to examine themselves thoroughly, and to seek to clear themselves (apologia) by their change of heart. The term apologia, from which we obtain our word "apology", is commonly used of a reasoned statement in defence of something or someone. Perhaps they were pointing out that Paul had in fact taken it as worse than it was, and that they regretted that they had given this impression.
They had become filled with ‘indignation’ (aganaktesis), a word which is found only here in the New Testament and refers to deep vexation or profound displeasure. But at whom was their indignation levelled? Probably at the main offender, and perhaps at the disgruntled minority or the rival missionaries, who had quite possibly egged the wrongdoer on. But it could be that their indignation was first aimed at themselves, and those who should have guided them better. They may well have been angry with themselves, asking, "How could we have done this?"
They had also revealed their "fear" ( phobos). But of what were they afraid? It could be that they feared divine reprisals for rejecting God's representative. They had become conscious that they had shamed God’s Apostle. Or it could be that they stood in dread of what Paul would do when he came. For while they had possibly not all taken the man's side against Paul, they had done nothing to support Paul either.
‘Longing’ and ‘zeal’ are repeated from verse 7, expressed and expended in seeking to put things right. But zeal to do what? Three possibilities are suggested. Paul may be thinking of the church's eagerness to discipline the offending party, or he may have in view the Corinthians' current zealous support for him in the face of his detractors, or he could be referring to their enthusiasm in carrying out his instructions. Probably all three are to be seen as in mind. The apathy that they had exhibited on Paul's last visit had now become an eagerness by the many to demonstrate their support (2.6). Indeed their overzealousness in disciplining the wrongdoer had to be restrained.
‘Avenging’ (ekdikesis) can mean either to take revenge or to punish. The reference is probably to disciplining the guilty party for his behaviour, to right the wrong that had been done. Eagerness to see justice done might be seen as catching the sense. Paul's choice of terms may point to some kind of formal disciplinary action decided on and carried out by the congregation (see 2.6), such as the withholding of church privileges.
‘In everything you approved yourselves to be pure in the matter.’ Not necessarily originally, but now that they had come to their senses. Hagnos ("pure, chaste, holy") plus einai ("to be") carries the sense of legal blamelessness. The Corinthians' overall response was now sufficient to clear them of blame (NEB) and prove themselves guiltless (RSV).
This was what cause him joy, that their sorrow had been of a godly sort, of a kind produced by God (‘a sorrow according to God’), and that it had therefore produced outstanding results.
7.12 ‘So although I wrote to you, it was not for his cause who did the wrong, nor for his cause who suffered the wrong, but that your earnest care for us might be made openly clear to you in the sight of God.’
But he wants them to be clear why he had written to them. It had not been in order to allocate blame or to seek punishment for the guilty, but that the responsibility of all of them towards him might become abundantly clear, and that they might themselves be aware of their need to have the right earnest response to him in the sight of God. In 2.9 he had said that he wrote as he did to see if they would stand the test and be obedient in everything, and in 2.4 that it was not to cause them pain but to let them know the depth of his love for them. Now he confirms that it was to face them up with what their response to him should be before God Himself.
‘For his cause who did the wrong.’ This may be the person mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5.1-5, but only if he had then mustered the Corinthians against Paul and had succeeded in turning Paul into their enemy. However, 2.10 would seem to rule him out, for in his case there was very much to be forgiven, and that by God. Otherwise we must see him as someone who was trying to take over the leadership and had tried to wreck Paul’s reputation in order to do it. But that he was a genuine man at heart would seem to be indicated by his seemingly genuine repentance on the receipt of the severe letter (which seems to rule out an outsider). Thus he might be seen as misguided and self-opinionated rather than as bad.
‘Nor for his cause who suffered the wrong.’ Either Paul himself, or one of his co-workers who had also suffered, Paul ignoring the wrong done to himself.
7.13 ‘Therefore we have been comforted, and in our comfort we rejoiced the more greatly for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.’
Thus he has been comforted and encouraged by their response, and was also able to rejoice even more because Titus had been refreshed in spirit by their attitude. Their response had also been a huge encouragement to Titus in his work for the Lord.
7.14 ‘For if in anything I have gloried to him on your behalf, I was not put to shame, but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so our glorying also which I made before Titus was found to be truth.’
And he rejoices in the fact that his faith in them had been justified, so that Titus had been able to see that all he had boasted to him about the Corinthians, and boasted he had, had been proved true. Thus his truthfulness was established in every way, both his truthfulness to them and his truthfulness in his boasting to Titus.
7.15 ‘ And his affection is more abundantly toward you, while he remembers the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling you received him.’
For Titus has only good memories of them. He remembers how they responded to his authority, and received him with great concern and care for his words, and were eager to learn from him what they should do. And the result is that he has great affection for them indeed.
‘With fear and trembling.’ That is with deep concern and willingness to respond.
7.16 ‘I rejoice that in everything I am of good courage concerning you.’
Thus Paul himself rejoices in that he is assured in his heart concerning them in every way.
So ends this section of his letter, a combination of rejoicing over their response, which is how it finishes, yet including the clear indication of his fears that nevertheless there was much still to be put right, not mainly in regard to their response to him, although there is some question about some, but with regard to their daily living and their attitudes to life. They have a need for a closer identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, a more complete separation of themselves to God, a releasing of themselves from the yoke of the idolatrous world, and an avoidance of such things as can hinder their love for Him (6.14-18), and then they will see Him fully, with the veil removed (3.18), and will become more like Him day by day.
Sadly it was not to be long before news reached him that somewhat altered his confidence, even before he had completed the letter (10--13).
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