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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
A PLEA CONCERNING THE PAYING OF THEIR ‘DEBT’ TO THE JERUSALEM CHURCH BY MEANS OF ‘THE COLLECTION’ WHICH WAS TO BE FOR THE RELIEF OF THE EXTREME POVERTY OF THE SAINTS IN THAT CHURCH AND WHICH WOULD ITSELF BE A CONTRIBUTION TO THE FORWARD GOING OF THE OVERALL PURPOSES OF GOD (8.1-9.15).
This next section of the letter deals with Paul’s activities in collecting money for "the poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15.26). He had declared his great concern for the poor in Galatians 2.10, and that it was genuine comes out in that he seems to have encouraged the churches to gather these funds over a period of about five years (52-57 AD), seeking to obtain them from the churches in Achaia (Romans 15.26; 1 Corinthians 16.1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9); Galatia (Acts 18.23; 1 Corinthians 16.1); Macedonia (Acts 19.22; 2 Corinthian 8.1-5; 9.2, 4), and Asia Minor (Acts 20.35).
But he saw it as more than just an act of loving charity, he saw it as having at the heart of it the fulfilling of the ancient prophecies of the overt uniting of Israel and the Gentiles as one under the One God of the whole world.
Delegates from most of these regions, and possibly from all, were to accompany Paul when he took the gift to Jerusalem (Acts 20.4). They wanted it to be an act of fellowship and encouragement as well as an act of giving, an overt declaration of their oneness in Christ.
The recipients were to be the Jerusalem church who were seemingly on the whole especially poor and in need. The very prominence of their position counted against them. Becoming Christians, and particularly being baptised, might well have eventually resulted in social and economic ostracism within Jerusalem's society where Judaism dominated the whole way of life. At various times Christians were discriminated against and victimised.
The communal sharing of goods that the early Christians in Jerusalem practised demonstrated levels of poverty already in existence among the Jerusalem converts right from the beginning (Acts 6.1), and it would be exacerbated by the fact that ageing Jewish Christians (like their Jewish compatriots) would come to live in and around Jerusalem in their final days so that their bodies would be there ready for the day of resurrection. The communal sharing in the beginning may have helped in the short term, but it could not solve their economic problems, and it inevitably left those who gave so sacrificially, in a worse position to help in the long term (compare Acts 2.44-45; 4.32, 34-35).
But the whole of Palestine in fact suffered from lack of food around that time due to a famine that arose during the reign of Emperor Claudius in 46 AD (Acts 11.27-30) and lasted some years, and as the mother church of Christianity, the Jerusalem church would undoubtedly have a larger number of visitors to give hospitality to than did others, as well making some provision for those who went out from it.
And finally there was the fact that all Jews in Palestine, including Jewish Christians, had to pay double taxes, to Rome and to the Jewish authorities. All these things then would contribute to the poverty of the Jerusalem church.
But why did Paul devote so much of his time and energy to raising and delivering this collection? Undoubtedly the first reason was because of his love for his needy Christian brethren (Romans 12.13; 13.8; Galatians 6.10). He also believed that this gift would bring glory to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 8.19), and that it would help to level out by mutual assistance God's provision for His people's physical needs (2 Corinthians 8.13-15). Moreover, it provided a visible demonstration of the equality of status that existed between Gentile and Jewish Christians (Ephesians 2.11-22), and would undoubtedly reduce the tensions between them. The Jerusalem church tended to be very conservative and ‘Jewish’, and while Acts 15 had laid down the position with regard to Gentile Christians, not all would have been convinced. A genuine expression of loving concern could therefore only help to improve the relationships.
He probably also hoped that God might use it in order to allay Jewish suspicions about Christianity, and about his own mission to the Gentiles (compare Acts 11.2-3), demonstrating that it did not see Jews as enemies. It also illustrated the spiritual indebtedness that the Gentiles owed to their Jewish brethren (Romans 15.19, 27; 1 Corinthians 9.11), and was personally a way in which he could partially compensate for his own earlier persecution of the Jerusalem saints (Acts 8.3; 9.1; 26.10-11; 1 Corinthians 15.9; Galatians 1.13; 1 Timothy 1.13), which had undoubtedly largely in the first place contributed to its poverty.
But above all Paul almost certainly saw in the entry of his large Gentile contingent, with their munificent gift, into Jerusalem, a partial fulfilment of the prophecies which spoke of the Gentiles and their riches flowing into Jerusalem in the last days (Isaiah 2.2-5; 60.5-22; 61.6; Micah 4.1-5; Haggai 2.7). It fulfilled the vision of the one ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6.16).
So Paul wrote as he did in the following two chapters of 2 Corinthians in order to facilitate the Collection, which he clearly considered to be of great importance, and to bring out its significance, while at the same time laying out a philosophy of Christian stewardship for all time, and defending himself against charges that some would make against him..
This is certainly not the first time that the Corinthians had heard about this collection. Paul's abrupt mention of "concerning the collection for the saints" in 1 Corinthians 16.1, and his subsequent discussion of it, emphasises that he had spoken to them about it previously at some length, and that it was well known and of interest to them, and 8.10; 9.1-2 below indicate that their interest had continued, even though the controversy that had developed between them and Paul may well have contributed to some delay (2.5-11; 7.12).
However now that Paul had learned that the Corinthian congregation were responding more positively to him again, he sought to reintroduce the subject and press for its completion, beginning by describing the generosity of the Macedonian churches, and then expressing his confidence in their own anticipated generosity to the glory of God.
He begins in chapter 8 by stressing how eager the Macedonians were to have their full part in the Collection, and stresses their example of self-sacrifice, probably hoping that it would be an incentive and example to the Corinthians to give as well, following this up with the example of self-giving of Jesus Christ Himself and what he saw as the approach that they should now take. Then he informs them that Titus and two others will be coming to see them partly for this purpose.
And he finishes the chapter by mentioning the glorying he has engaged in on their behalf before the other churches.
But this seemingly pulls him up short as he suddenly realises how tactless he has been. Here he had been, lauding the Macedonians without any thought that the Corinthians who were reading his words might have been priding themselves on being the first to be involved in the Collection, and without having mentioned how he had in fact been glorying in their zeal. Even the sending of the three men could be seen as suggesting that without them the Corinthians could not be depended on to act. So he hurriedly does an about face in chapter 9 and assures them that he realises that what he has been saying has actually been unnecessary because it is they who have been involved in the project from the beginning, and explains that the reason that the three men are coming is simply so as to ensure that when the Macedonians pay them a visit they might not be caught out unprepared, and as he has already stated (8.20-21) in order to protect his own reputation.
In his infectious enthusiasm he then adds further reasons why they should be forward in giving, and finishes by giving thanks for God’s glorious gift of Jesus Christ. This adequately explains why there seem to be two accounts of his appeal to the Corinthians, while also explaining their dependence on each other.
The Generosity of the Churches of Macedonia With Regard To The Collection (8.1-6).
8.1-2 ‘Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, how that in much testing by (proof of) affliction the abundance of their joy and their in depth poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality (singleness of heart, genuine sincerity).’
We should note here the oblique way in which Paul introduces the question of the Collection, so much so that to begin with we are not aware of what he is doing. The first appearance is simply of giving admiring testimony concerning the generosity of the Macedonians in giving, which has clearly moved him deeply. It is an impulsive introduction rather than a thought out one, and as 9.1 reveals, one which he came to realise was a little tactless. But his own selflessness and dedication and admiration for what they had done prevented him at first from recognising his lack of tact.
He draws attention to the generosity out of poverty of the Macedonian churches, which has clearly stirred him deeply. This is described as being as a direct result of the grace of God, God at work within them in unmerited favour (Philippians 2.13). Compare the ‘gift of giving’ in 1 Corinthians 13.3.
And yet these churches were suffering affliction and persecution (1 Thessalonians 1.6; 2.14; 3.3; Philippians 1.29-30), and were themselves in dire poverty, literally ‘down to the depths’. They had almost reached rock bottom. Yet from that affliction they found abounding joy in Christ, and this had resulted in their rich liberality to others in need.
8.3-4 ‘For according to their power, I bear witness, yes and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints.’
For they gave as much as they could afford, indeed more than they could afford, and they not only did it freely, they actually begged to be allowed to give it in order to serve those in even greater need than themselves. This suggests that at first Paul was reluctant to take it from them in view of their own extreme poverty. But the grace of God was so at work within them and they so longed to have their part in serving the needy saints of God, that they insisted vigorously. Their spirit was that of the widow whom Jesus praised in the Temple (Mark 12.41-44).
‘The fellowship in the ministering to the saints.’ ‘Fellowship’ means sharing in common. ‘Ministering’ is diakonia, acting in service. They wanted to show themselves a part of the worldwide church, and a part that truly served and worked as one with all.
8.5 ‘And this, not as we had hoped, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God.’
And in doing this they not only fulfilled Paul’s hopes but went further. They first ‘gave themselves to the Lord and to us’, and did it ‘through the will of God’. Paul’s Apostleship was ‘through the will of God’ (1.1), and the commitment of these men and women was of equal significance. It was God at work. And before handing over their gift they handed themselves over to the Lord, revealing that commitment practically by putting themselves at Paul’s service as the one who could guide them in the Lord. It is clear that Paul remembered vividly their dedication and their loyalty, and wants the point to come over to the Corinthians.
8.6 ‘Insomuch that we exhorted Titus, that as he made a beginning before, so he would also complete in you this grace also.’
Indeed so deep was the impact of the Macedonian way of giving that it moved him to send Titus to Corinth in the hope of producing the same effect among them in regard to the Collection which he had already put into motion when he had been with them. This beginning had been made when he had previously been in Corinth, and now Paul hoped that he could stir the Corinthians to also revealing the work of God’s grace within them, revealed by the generosity of their own gracious giving.
‘This grace also.’ As well as the grace resulting from his ministering to the saints.
(It is clear on consideration that for a brief while Paul has expressed himself a little tactlessly, forgetting the touchiness of the Corinthians. Instead of letting them know how he has used them as a stirring example to others, as he does later, he has given the impression that all the credit is due to the Macedonians. This is something he will shortly recognise and strive to correct in chapter 9, and explains his change of tone there).
He Exhorts The Corinthians Also To Demonstrate Their Spirituality By Their Generosity (8.7-15)
8.7 ‘But as you abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace also.’
Did they not abound in everything that was spiritual and right? In spiritual gifts (faith, utterance and knowledge), in zeal and earnestness in going about things, and in love for Paul and his fellow-workers? That was their claim. Well then let them abound in the gift of ‘giving’, that gracious gift from God of loving generosity (Romans 12.8; 1 Corinthians 13.3).
If they have ‘faith’ in God’s power to provide they will certainly not be backward in giving. And if they are inspired to prophesy, bringing God’s moral message to man, and if they have true spiritual knowledge about the all-giving God, then he is confident that they will be open-hearted givers. Besides he is further confident because of their zeal for God, confident that that ‘zeal’ to act will surely cause them to act in this case of clear need. And finally he is confident that their love for him and his fellow-workers will ensure their response. So let them ensure that they abound in this gracious gift as well, the gift of giving. His message is wholly positive. He congratulates them on what they are, in the confidence that he will draw from them the right response. It is praise with a purpose. But it is genuine praise.
8.8 ‘I speak not by way of commandment, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love.’
He does not want them to think that he is saying this as a commandment from God, or even as an order, but as an example so as to test out their love as well. The gracious, loving and earnest generosity of the Macedonian churches had so moved him that it had become to him the test of genuine and true love, and that is why he was revealing it to them, so that they could prove their genuine love in the same way. Let the Corinthians demonstrate that they too were of the same calibre. (Giving generously is also a test of our calibre).
8.9 ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.’
Indeed, laying aside the example of the Macedonians, was not the prime example of such giving the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Such was His unmerited favour and love, freely dispensed, that He Who shared the abundant riches of eternity with His Father, became poor, emptying Himself of all His glory and suffering to the depths (Philippians 2.5-6) in order that through His poverty we might be enriched.
What greater example could there be than the self-giving of our Lord? He gave up what was measureless in its glorious splendour and abounding joy and fullness of satisfaction, the wonder of His Father’s presence, (what words can even begin to describe it?), in the light of which everything in the whole of Creation pales into insignificance, and He did it because in the dire poverty of our spiritual bankruptcy there was no other way that we could be delivered. He did it to save us. He did it to make us rich, rich in peace, and joy, and goodness. Rich in true spiritual blessing.
The letter contains many examples of these riches. No fewer than eight such riches have been mentioned thus far in the letter; the earnest of the Spirit (1.22; 5.5), daily renewal (4.16), an eternal weight of glory (4.18), an eternal house in heaven (5.1), unending fellowship with Christ (5.8), a new creation (5.17), reconciliation with God (5.18) and the righteousness of God (5.21).
Did the Corinthians claim that they were rich in spiritual gifts? Well, let them reveal that it has made them like Him. Let them also, like Him, be rich in self-giving (as the Macedonians were), and reveal it by the wholehearted generosity of their giving .
The very strength of Paul’s argument here demonstrates the great importance that he laid on this once-for-all huge contribution to the welfare of the Jerusalem church. He more than others recognised the great debt that all Christians owed to that church which had from the beginning borne the huge weight of a great responsibility. Had he not himself witnessed its vicious persecution at first hand and personally ensured that their fulfilment of their responsibility was made as difficult as possible? (Acts 8.1-3). Was he not partly directly responsible for its poverty? But not just he. He had been but the representative of a sinful world. The Jerusalem Christians had borne the brunt from a sinful world of the consequences of the first steps in the redemption of the world, of following the way of the cross, of sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
8.10 ‘And in this I give my judgment, for this is expedient for you, who were the first to make a beginning a year ago, not only to do, but also to will.’
Indeed he has considered the situation like a judge appointed to consider an important matter, and he has passed his judgment. And his judgment is this. That just as the Corinthians were the first, not only to start giving, but also to demonstrate that they had the will to do it, so it was now expedient and good for them to continue to both to do and to will. He has rather belatedly remembered their own primacy in commencing contributions, but has not yet awoken to the offence he might have unwittingly caused. This will dawn on him shortly, possibly drawn to his attention by his emanuensis.
8.11-12 ‘But now complete the doing also; that as there was the readiness to will, so there may be the completion also out of your ability. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man has, not according as he has not.’
So let them now complete what they had begun. Let them complete ‘the doing’ of it, just as they had previously demonstrated that they had the readiness of will to do it. Let their readiness of will result in their finally completing their set task in accordance with their ability to give.
For what is being required is not extreme sacrifice, but a giving on the basis of what can genuinely be afforded. Readiness to give is proved by giving what one can afford, not by giving what one cannot afford. (The latter would indicate sacrificial love like that of the Macedonians, which goes one step further).
8.13-14 ‘For I do not say this that others may be eased and you distressed, but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality.’
Let them recognise that the purpose behind all this is not to make life easy for others as a result of distress brought on them (something which Roman and local taxes did do), but for both of them to share equally in God’s basic provision. At this present time their abundance could help meet the needs of those in dire want. At another time their poverty might be met by receiving from someone else’s abundance. The purpose was that all might be equally supplied by each other with their basic needs.
Note that the ‘equality’ does not indicate that all should have the same. It is speaking of equality of treatment. That each, when in great need, should be assisted by the other.
Some argue that Paul could not possibly have seen a time when the Jerusalem church would be in a position to reciprocate in physical assistance, and therefore argue that the reciprocation is in spiritual abundance. But verse 15 is against that idea. And he could well cite Old Testament prophecy which demonstrated that a turn in fortunes could easily come for Jerusalem.
However, we need not see Paul as prophesying that it would be, only as stating a principle. His idea was of all churches in the world being concerned for each others basic needs. The African churches of today have thereby a Scriptural right to enquire as to why we leave them to starve. But they are probably too spiritual to ask, and we are not spiritual enough to notice.
8.15 ‘As it is written, He who gathered much had nothing over; and he who gathered little had no lack.’
This was in accordance with the Scripture principle illustrated in Exodus 16.18, which demonstrated God’s mind on the subject of provision, each according to his need. God did not shower jewels down on them, but manna. They received the necessities.
He Is Sending Three Representatives To See To The Collection and To Their Spiritual Welfare, One Of Whom Is Titus Whom They Know Well (8.16-24).
Three was the number of completeness from when numbers were first used, for originally men could only count up to three, which represented everything that was, apart from man and his mate, (and which is still true in some parts of the world today). Thus three representatives could be seen as the full number required.
8.16-17 ‘But thanks be to God, who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he accepted indeed our exhortation, but being himself very earnest, he went forth to you of his own accord.’
He thanks God that He is making provision for the need of the Corinthians. For He has put into the heart of Titus an ‘earnest care’ for them, a care for contributing to their spiritual growth. Thus while accepting his exhortation, Titus had not needed the exhortation of Paul to come to them, for he had intended to come to them of his own accord, and that was why he had now come, in order that he might contribute to their spiritual growth, and enable them properly to demonstrate to the churches their generosity in contributing to the Collection.
8.18-19 ‘And we have sent together with him the brother whose praise in the gospel is spread through all the churches, and not only so, but who was also appointed by the churches to travel with us in the matter of this grace, which is ministered by us to the glory of the Lord, and to show our readiness.’
And with Titus is coming a man who is highly respected in financial and indeed all matters, among all the churches. His praise with regard to Gospel matters is known throughout the churches. In spiritual terms he is not a nobody. He is the very man selected by the churches to travel with Paul and administer, along with him, the funds being collected, which is an act of service being ministered to the glory of God. The fact that his name is not mentioned may indicate that he was not actually known to the Corinthians. It certainly suggests that he was not one of Paul’s companions. (He may temporarily even have forgotten the man’s name).
Note the reference to the funds as ‘this grace’, this opportunity of showing and demonstrating the work of the grace of God within the givers. This expression of the goodness and love of God, and of His people, is considered as being as important as other ways of making known the Gospel.
‘And to show our readiness.’ This man’s presence with them as Paul’s partner in the enterprise demonstrates Paul’s own readiness in the matter.
8.20-21 ‘Avoiding this, that any man should blame us in the matter of this bounty which is ministered by us, for we take thought for things honourable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.’
Yet it also assures that no one will be able to accuse Paul of self-seeking, or even dishonesty. He wants to make sure that there can be no danger of him or anyone else being accused of misuse of the funds. Being responsible for ministering funds is a dangerous position, says Paul, and it behoves Christians to ensure that all sensible precautions are taken, not only to prevent misappropriation, but also to prevent the possibility of malicious slander. It is not only good to be honourable in the Lord’s sight, it is equally good to be seen as honourable in the sight of men, for that too brings honour on the Lord.
That this was a common precaution in the first century is suggested by Philo's similar reference to the selection of highly regarded people from every town to accompany the temple contributions to Jerusalem (The Special Laws 1.78).
8.22 ‘And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have many times proved earnest in many things, but now much more earnest, by reason of the great confidence which he has in you.’
And along with these two men Paul has also sent a third person, a man whose earnestness in many ways he can vouch for, and who is especially earnest in his desire to be of benefit to the Corinthian church because he has such a high view of them. This may signify that he was also helping administer the Collection, and was confident of the Corinthian’s generosity, or that he had come to provide them with sound spiritual ministry. Or even both.
If Paul had forgotten the first man’s name this further non-mention of a name might indicate a tactful touch which would ensure that the first unknown did not feel slighted. On the other hand the non-mention of names may indicate Paul’s unwillingness to give his personal Apostolic backing to people whom he himself had not appointed. See the next verse.
8.23 ‘Whether any inquire about Titus, he is my partner and my fellow-worker to you-ward, or our brethren, they are the messengers of the churches, they are the glory of Christ.’
He recognises that some might well wish to check out the people he has sent. They can inform such people that Titus is Paul’s partner, and the fellow-worker he has appointed to oversee the Corinthian church in his necessary absence. As for the other two they are appointed ‘apostles’ of the churches. Here ‘apostles’ is used in its general use as a representative, those given authority to speak and act on behalf of those who appointed them. This might serve to demonstrate that Paul only names those who are appointed by him.
‘They are the glory of Christ.’ In the Old Testament ‘the glory’ of a nation was its wealth and prosperity (Isaiah 10.3; 17.3-4; 21.16; Ezekiel 24.25) or its powerful armies (Isaiah 8.7). Thus this may signify that such men are Christ’s wealth, Christ’s battalions. They are what shows Him to be what He is, men worthy of their position who by their lives reveal His glory. They are His particular assets, His chosen vessels.
Or he may simply be saying that their status is such that it outshines all others. While ambassadors may be the glory of their country, these men are beyond that. They are unique in status, they are His glory, for they are the chosen representatives of His people, and therefore of Him, representatives of the glory that is unseen. Or alternately he may mean that they are those in whom Christ glories.
Or Paul may have in mind 3.18 and be saying that these men are of those who see Christ, as it were, face to face with unveiled eyes, and are thus those who are well on the way to attaining His glory, indeed have potentially done so. They are as much of the glory of Christ as the world can see.
What it certainly means is that in some way they outshine, and are more important than, all that is in or of the world
8.24 ‘Show you therefore to them in the face of the churches the proof of your love, and of our glorying on your behalf.’
Thus to such honoured men they are to show, as it were in the presence of the churches whom they represent, the proof of their love, the proof that they are really what Paul has boasted they are, by their generous giving. How can they do less before those who are not only the glory of the churches but are ‘the glory of Christ’, there to oversee what they will do.
‘Our glorying on your behalf.’ Had it not been for chapter 9 we would not have known what this meant. It would simply have left us with a puzzle. He has not yet mentioned his glorying on their behalf. Chapter 9 is required in order to explain it.
Further Reasons Why They Should Reveal Their Generosity (9.1-15).
It is often noted that this chapter appears to repeat to some extent the ideas in chapter 8, yet from a different angle, and seems to begin almost from scratch. And this has caused some to think that this is a separate letter. But this is not only unnecessary and not supported by any manuscript evidence, but ignores the niceties of his situation.
He has finished off chapter 8 with a reference to his ‘glorying’ on their behalf, something which in fact is not otherwise mentioned in chapter 8 but is clearly explained in chapter 9, and the mention of ‘the brothers’ in chapter 9 assumes their introduction in chapter 8. In fact, his very mentioning of his glorying on their behalf may well be precisely what pulled him up short and made him realise that he had up to this point been less than tactful. We might see him as realising that here were the Corinthians, with whom he had just recently been reconciled, who had been the first to take a real interest in the Collection (1 Corinthians 16.1), having newcomers to the idea thrust in their face as an example, and lauded to the skies, while they could argue that it was they who should be held up as an example.
It was true that on him the eager self-sacrifice of the Macedonians had made a great impression, but he probably suddenly recognised that it might not be seen in the same light by the touchy Corinthians. Indeed their pride might well be hurt. Thus 9.1 sees him hurriedly trying to assure them that in fact he does recognise that what he has said might seem a little superfluous in the light of the fact that they have already proved their readiness, and goes on to stress that in reality they had been the example that he had used to spur others on to take up the idea of the Collection with enthusiasm.
Thus his point about the self-sacrifice of the Macedonians might now, he hoped, be taken for what it was, an example of sacrificial giving, but not as a suggestion of their having failed. There may even be a case for suggesting that he had had a break in his letter writing which had made him recognise how tactless he had been, so that on again taking up his pen he sought to put matters right. (Such bursts of realisation often come out of the blue when least expected).
9.1 ‘For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you, for I know your readiness, of which I glory on your behalf to those of Macedonia, that Achaia has been prepared for a year past, and your zeal has stirred up very many of them.’
Note the connecting ‘for’ which connects the chapter with his words in chapter 8.24. It reads as though it is as a result of his mentioning of his glorying in the Corinthians in the previous verse that he now writes as he does.
This verse must surely be seen as a piece of delicate diplomacy. Having urged on them incentives for them to make their gifts, including the self-sacrificing giving of the Macedonians, he now back-pedals a little and assures them that he realises that what he has said was in fact superfluous, and need not have been said, because he does indeed know of their present readiness to collect funds for Jerusalem, and has already boasted about it to the Macedonians. The fact of the matter is that he had not only informed the Macedonians that Achaia has already been collecting funds and had been ready for a whole year to contribute towards the collection, but that he had actually done this to such an extent that their zeal had aroused others to give.
It may also be that he is bearing in mind that he is speaking in his letter to two audiences. The main church in Corinth, with whom he had been at cross purposes, who may have slackened their zeal for the Collection, and the other churches in the area known locally as Achaia, around Corinth, who may not have been involved and may have therefore have continued collecting apace. And he would know that his letter would be read in both places, with the right emphasis being passed to each by the bearer. (That is why such a pastoral letter can sometimes appear to be saying two slightly different things. And he would certainly not be the only writer to repeat himself from a slightly different viewpoint when he has a point that he desperately wants to get over).
9.3-4 ‘But I have sent the brethren, that our glorying on your behalf may not be made void in this respect, so that, even as I said, you may be prepared, lest by any means, if there come with me any of Macedonia and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, you) should be put to shame in this confidence.’
So he now assures them that he has not sent the three men because of the church’s perceived reluctance to give, but so as to ensure that the church were prepared in readiness for a visit by the Macedonians, who might well visit them when he himself comes to see them. What he does not want is for them to be put to shame if the Macedonians arrived and found no collection ready. This would shame both him and them, him because he has been glorying in their readiness, and them because they will lose face.
9.5 ‘I thought it necessary therefore to entreat the brethren, that they would go before to you, and make up beforehand your previously promised bounty, that the same might be ready as a matter of bounty, and not of extortion (covetousness).’
So that was why he had felt it necessary to send these three men, ‘the brethren’, to them in advance, so that they could ensure that the collection, which in their bounty they had previously promised, was gathered together and ready on a fully voluntary and willing basis as a genuine act of bounty, and not one that was revealed as given reluctantly in haste.
The final word may demonstrate his concern against forcing a gift from them (extortion) or refer to giving the impression of a grudging response (giving with a money-loving attitude). The mention of these men in this way also assumes a connection with the previous chapter.
We should note here how little pressure he puts on in order to persuade them to give. He refuses to use high pressure methods, while at the same time giving pause for thought. However, his eagerness for the success of his project is such that he decides to add further force to his previous persuasive arguments in chapter 8. So with this in mind he quotes what is possibly a well known proverb, (although there is actually no evidence elsewhere of such a proverb), in order to gently urge them towards being generous.
9.6 ‘But this I say (or ‘is always so’), He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.’
For the general thought see Proverbs 22.8-9, ‘he who sows iniquity will reap calamity -- he who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.’ Meditating on this may well have spurred Paul on into inventing his own proverbs in this vein, which he applied to this particular situation. Compare Galatians 6.7-8 where a similar thought is in mind, ‘what a man sows that will he also reap, for he who sows to his own flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life’. And the thought is close to the words of Jesus in Luke 6.38, "Give, and it will be given to you -- with the measure you measure out, it will be measured to you." (See also Job 4.8; Proverbs 11.24; Hosea 10.12-13).
The thought is basic. If the farmer is meagre in his sowing he will receive a meagre harvest. If he sows generously, he will receive a generous harvest. It was a truth well known to farmers, and applies to much of what we do. So the Corinthians need to consider the level of their response, for they will reap accordingly. This is often true even of this life, and all would be aware of the parables of the harvest referring to the final judgment which emphasise that it is true in eternity (Matthew 13).
9.7 ‘Let each man do according as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly, or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.’
Paul then draws out the lesson. Let them indeed give as they decide for themselves, but let them remember to give cheerfully and generously, for God looks at the heart, and He loves those whose thoughts are open-hearted and generous. The word for cheerful is hilarios, God loves those who give ‘hilariously’, without stint (compare Romans 12.8)
The perfect example is the widow in the Temple who gave to God what seemed like a pittance, but it was from a full heart, and of her Jesus said, ‘She has given more than everyone else, for they gave of their plenty, but she, out of what she needed, has given all she had’ (Mark 12.42-44). In other words God measures our giving by what we have left.
9.8 ‘And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work.’
For let not those who give generously from a godly heart be in any doubt. They serve an abundant God, and a God who knows how to abound in His giving, a God of superlatives.
And God will reward such accordingly. They need not fear loss. He is not stinting in His giving. Nor will He run short. Indeed the source of His giving is immeasurable. It is ‘all grace’, grace abounding, all the unmerited favour of a gracious God, Who has in fact already given us all that we have, revealed in ever more giving. And His giving is in power. ‘God is powerfully able (dunatei) --.’ The source is in His power. So there is no lack in their Provider, and in what He gives and in the power with which He gives.
And the result of His gracious giving will be that we have ‘all sufficiency in everything’. What a promise is this. We will always have all that we need in order to fulfil His will of being generous to those in need. And this in itself should lead us on to ‘abound in every good work’, which includes, among other things, even more giving, for as we do so we will receive even more of His sufficiency.
If we translate, ‘powerfully able -all grace - abound -all sufficiency in all things - abound - all good work’ we get something of the idea. With God there is no withholding anything from those whose hearts are right and who desire to abound towards others. He gives all that He might enable them to do all that is good.
9.9 ‘As it is written, He (a righteous man) has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor. His righteousness abides for ever.’
For the Scripture’s model of a righteous man is that he scatters abroad what he possesses, he gives to the poor and needy, and thus he continues in righteousness for ever and ever (Psalm 112.9). The lesson is an important one. Perseverance in faith results from continuation in righteousness. Those whose generosity and love continues to overflow will thereby ensure the growth of their own spiritual lives. They prove themselves to be those who themselves enjoy the righteousness of God, given to them in Christ (5.21), and their generous behaviour ensures that they continue in that righteousness in practical living.
But it may be that by this quotation Paul is also pointing out the truth of what he has said earlier. He has spoken in 8.13-14 of ‘give and take’. Here in the Psalm the righteous ‘Jew’ scattered abroad what he had. He supplied the need of the poor and needy. But now he is poor and needy himself, and it is therefore right that he himself should now receive the scattering abroad of others.
9.10-11 And he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness, you being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which works through us thanksgiving to God.’
And the consequence will be that the One Who on a continuing basis supplies seed to the sower (which supply is evidence of previous blessing) and bread to the eater, will be sure to multiply their ‘seed’ (their wealth) so that they may have more to sow and can give even more. He will ‘increase the fruits of their righteousness’, that is, in context, that he will provide them with more and more benefit (fruits) for the continual carrying on of their righteous behaviour as revealed in their generous giving. They will be enriched in everything so that they can be even more liberal.
Note how Paul’s promise is not that they will themselves become personally prosperous, but that they will be provided with the means to be able to give more and more, and to be more and more generous. Unlike many today who promise to donors that if they give they will thereby become personally prosperous, Paul is not concerned with the growth of their personal wealth, but with the growth of their spiritual generosity. He wants them to abound, not their wealth.
The thought is taken from Isaiah 55.10 (compare also Hosea 10.12 LXX for ‘the fruits of their righteousness’) where the idea is of the carrying forward of God’s final purposes as His word goes forth to accomplish His will, so that Paul is not only making a general practical application but showing in these results the fulfilment of God’s eternal plan. As a result of their generous giving they will be caught up even more in the continual going forward of God’s saving process.
‘Which works through us thanksgiving to God.’ And the result of all their liberality will result through the bearers of their gifts (‘us’) in thanksgiving to God by those who receive them. Thus are they contributing to increased worship of God.
9.12 ‘For the ministration of this service not only fills up the measure of the needs of the saints, but abounds also through many thanksgivings to God.’
For that is what the carrying out of such service as a ministry achieves. It not only supplies the physical needs of God’s people, but results in abounding thanksgivings to God, both from the recipients and from those who learn about it. So will God also rejoice and so will His purposes go forward. This is not to be seen as just ‘giving to charity’, it is a genuine ministry of giving which is an important part of God’s overall plan, and it involves in this case overseas aid.
9.13-14 ‘Seeing that through the proving (or ‘approval’) of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution (‘contribution in fellowship’ - koinonia) to them and to all, while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, long after you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you.’
For this ministration of generous giving will be the proof, in the eyes of all, and especially of the Jewish church, of the truth of their own profession of obedience to the Gospel of Christ, resulting in approval of them, and will thus produce the glorifying of God for what He has done in them. And it will also produce thanksgiving to God for the very benefits themselves, and the genuine fellowship that is revealed by them.
Furthermore it will result in the recipients praying for them, and ‘longing after them’ (feeling well disposed towards them and wanting more fellowship with them) because of the large amount of the grace of God that it reveals in them. The vision is of the fulfilling of Old Testament prophecies which portrayed ever growing good relationships in God between Israel and the nations (Isaiah 27.13), with both benefiting from each other, fulfilled in Jewish and Gentile Christians being blended together in the new Israel (Ephesians 2.12-22).
Thus they should see that by giving generously they will not only be relieving need, but contributing to the expansion of God’s ultimate purposes in many ways.
9.15 ‘Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.’
And what is it that achieves all this? It is God’s unspeakable gift of His Son, a gift beyond describing, Who through the sacrifice of Himself made all this possible. How great then are the thanks that are due to Him. Through Him He is achieving more than we could ever have dreamed of.
Others suggest that this is Paul's final attempt to motivate generous giving by suggesting that he is expecting the anticipated Corinthian gift to be ‘beyond all imagining’. Still others believe that Paul is describing the miracle of Jewish-Gentile unity or of the worldwide Gospel as proclaimed by Paul. Most, however, identify God's ‘indescribable’ gift with Jesus Christ.
Excursus. What Does This Teach Us About Our Responsibility To Give Today?
There are various principles that are apparent from our examination of these two chapters.
It should be noted that Israel in fact gave considerably more than a tenth. For them that was only a beginning. On top of tithes came the offerings of various kinds, which were plentiful (e.g. Leviticus 1-7 which again are only a beginning. Offerings were multitudinous). The tithe was simply a means of providing for the physical needs of those who administered the Law and looking after the requirements of the cult, and of laying up provision for the poor, the needy and the stranger (Deuteronomy 14.28-29).
Two standards are in fact laid before us, that of the Macedonians which was sacrificial and went beyond what they could afford (8.1-5), in the same way as the widow in the Temple (Luke 21.34). And the lesser standard applied as a general principle that we give as we are able.
End of excursus.
CHAPTERS 10-13. HIS DEFENCE AGAINST HIS OPPONENTS and HIS HEARTFELT PLEA TO HIS ‘CHILDREN’ NOT TO BE LED ASTRAY.
Paul Now Lays Down The Gauntlet Against Some Of His Opponents Who Have Seemingly Arrived In Corinth (10.1-12.13)
Up to this point Paul’s letter has been written on a fairly amicable basis. He has made clear certain real problems still existing in the Corinthian church, but on the whole has not felt it necessary to defend himself too strongly. There have been inferences and hints that all was still not fully well, but nothing that was too powerful. His thoughts about them had become more settled and he had felt that the bad times were probably mainly over. Now, however all changes, and Paul goes into a powerful defence against some ‘pseudo-apostles’ who are seeking to undermine his ministry, and his fear as to what their effect on the Corinthians will be (12.20-21).
The very abruptness of the change of tone requires an explanation. The probable explanation may possibly be the simplest one. That even as he was coming to an end of writing his letter news reached him of certain preachers from Jerusalem who had arrived at Corinth who were antagonistic towards him, were personally attacking him and seeking to reveal him as a fraud, were proclaiming a diminished Christ, and were winning a hearing and dividing the church, thus seeming to upset all that he had achieved. It would seem that those who brought the news informed him of what these men were saying against him, as they sought to destroy his position completely, and woo the Corinthians over to themselves.
So, fearful lest he might lose what Titus’ visit and his severe letter had gained, he launches into this powerful defence in which he pulls no punches. This would fit in with the fact that this time he is not speaking of only one opponent but of a number of such.
In these days of instant telecommunication it is difficult for us to fully understand what it must have been like to be dependent on news arriving slowly, without any possibility of quickly discovering what the true situation was, especially when dealing with a church as volatile as that at Corinth. On the arrival of such news there would arise a deep fear in the mind and heart of Paul of the collapse of all that he had worked for, and all that he had thought was put right. All he could then do was write strongly, and as quickly as possible, in the hope of stopping it before it got worse.
So Paul opens this section by identifying himself by name. This is something that he does comparatively rarely in the body of a letter (although see Galatians 5.2; Ephesian 3.1; Colossians 1.23; 1 Thessalonians 2.18; Philemon 9). Here it is as a contrast to his opponents and to stress his personal status. They have previously declared their loyalty to him, let them remember that he is the one appointed as an Apostle of Christ by the will of God. It may also be an indication that he takes the pen from his emanuensis and begins to write in his own hand.
‘I, Paul, . . . beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be’ (10:1-2). This appears so startling after his previously revealed attitude that many today find it hard to accept that 1.1-9.15 and 10.1-13.13 originally coexisted in the same letter. They point out that there are also other aspects of chapters 10--13 that seem to be at odds with the rest of the letter.
For example, Paul's remarks about his critics become much more pointed and strident. The "some" who peddle the word of God for profit (2.17) and carry letters of recommendation (3.1-3) are now called "false apostles," "deceitful workmen" and are depicted as coming as "angels of light" like Satan does (11.13-15), although he does have such people in mind in 2.17; 4.2. Compare also 5.12. They are depicted as out to enslave and exploit the Corinthians (11.20). His defence also becomes much more impassioned: "What anyone else dares to boast about -- I also dare to boast about" (11.21). Although we must not overlook that he has ‘gloried’ in certain things all the way through (e.g. 1.5-9, 12, 14; 2.14, 17; 3.1-2 etc).
And he boasts as ‘one out of his mind’ (11.23). But again we should note 5.13 where he also speaks of being ‘beside himself’. So while not totally different the atmosphere seems to have become more charged.
Furthermore his tone is now marked by biting sarcasm and scathing irony. For example in 11.19 he says, "You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!". And finally, Paul's attitude toward the Corinthians becomes patently more threatening. "On my return," he warns, "I will not spare those who sinned earlier" (13.2), which sits ill with 2.4, and adds , "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith" (13.5) (although this latter does tie in with 6.1).
There can be no real doubt about the change of tone and attitude, although possibly not to the extent often mooted, heightened to a new intensity rather than actually new.
A number of proposals have been put forward to account for this state of affairs. Some think that the explanation lay in Paul's frame of mind, that he penned chapters 10-13 after a night's sleep from which he awoke with a sense of foreboding.
Others that a lengthy dictation pause intervened, a period in which he was too busy to continue with the letter, and that during it he received fresh news of an alarming nature, prompting him to abruptly alter his approach as he hurriedly finalised his letter.
Others consider that perhaps chapters 1-9 are addressed to the general Corinthian congregation, while chapters 10--13 are directed at certain false apostles and their adherents who formed a minority. The bearer could make this abundantly clear as he read out the letter. (It was personally delivered not posted, thus enabling its intentions to be made clear). Or perhaps that chapters 1-9 are intended for the majority who supported Paul (2.6), while chapters 10-13 are aimed at the minority who were still against him. Or that he has begun to write it himself rather than through an emanuensis and thus expresses himself more strongly.
The difficulty with any of these is that there are not the usual contextual clues to alert the reader to the receipt of disturbing news ("I hear that --"), a change of audience ("Now, to the rest of you --") or a change of writers ("I write this in my own hand"). This has led some to suggest that Paul intentionally reserved his criticism until he had regained the Corinthians' trust or that he first consolidated his apostolic authority and then exercised it against those who were still opposed to him, again with the bearer making the situation clear.
But the real problem that requires explanation is not so much the general content but the sudden change of approach and stridency of tone at 10.1, and the difference in emphasis. How probable from a pastoral standpoint would it be, it is asked, for Paul to begin the letter with praise ("Praise be to the God and Father . . ." 1.3) and conclude with a sharp warning ("Examine yourselves," 13.5)? There is no real parallel to this in his other letters. However in the light of 1 Corinthians 9.25 that is not really a problem, for there Paul could praise God and still say about himself that he was, at least theoretically, in danger of being rejected after testing. How much more so then the Corinthians.
Many have therefore suggested that chapters 10-13 are to be identified with Paul's "severe letter," sent prior to chapters 1--9 to rebuke the church for its lack of support and to call for the punishment of the individual who had challenged and humiliated Paul on his last visit, and late added to another letter. But this falls down both on content, there is for example no mention of his chief opponent (2.6), and on lack of explanation as to where the remainder of the letter disappeared to. It has, for example, no opening greeting. Another alternative offered is that 2 Corinthians 10-13 was written after chapters 1-9 in response to reports of new developments at Corinth. But this fails because we have to explain why it was not conjoined simply as it was, including its opening salutation and the closing salutation of the previous letter. It is also very little different from seeing the section as arising just as chapters 1-9 have been written, on receipt of disturbing news, but with more difficulties.
For one vital fact to take into account is that there is a total lack of any manuscript or patristic evidence to suggest that chapters 10-13 ever circulated independently of chapters 1-9. This is a major drawback of both of these last alternatives. This is especially so as abrupt changes of tone do occur elsewhere in Paul's letters (for example in Philippians 3.2). It is not something unique in his letters.
"I am glad I can have complete confidence in you" (7.16) may fit ill with "examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith" (13.5), but it does also sit ill with ‘we entreat you that you receive not the grace of God in vain’ (7.1). The fact is that all the way through the letter Paul is trying to convey a positive message while at the same time expressing his fears. One may be seen as an encouragement and the others as a warning to the same people.
It would appear to us that the best explanation of all these various problems is that which sees the change resulting as a result of the arrival of bad news while he was in course of writing the letter. The bad news that his rivals, with whom he has had to struggle elsewhere, have arrived at Corinth and are maligning him and his ministry, not so much this time on the basis of what saves (for Paul mentions no such doctrinal disagreement) but on the basis of the essence of Christ Himself, and on the basis of their priorities and jealousies, and of seeing Paul as an upstart. In view of the previous upset which he had thought was settled this would very much affect him. Indeed it would shake him to the core. We have already had indications that he is still not absolutely sure of them. The bad news thus reconfirms his fears and arouses deep alarm within him. The result being that he then takes up the pen himself, in great concern, so as to write these last strongly apologetic chapters in order, he hopes, to stymie further disagreements within the church before it is too late. (The volatility of the church in Corinth will later be confirmed in the letter to the Corinthians written by Clement of Rome at the end of the century).
Furthermore the fact that Paul has failed to notify them clearly in 1-9 of his future plans with regard to visiting them (it is only indirectly referred to in 9.4), which must seem surprising in the circumstances in view of the fact that it had after all been such a big thing with them (1.17), would strongly support the idea that 10-13, which does contain such information, must be a part of the same letter, which is the view we take.
Paul Begins His Defence. When He Comes Among Them He Will Prove His Strength And Indeed They Already Have Evidence Of It In Their Own Conversion (10.1-18).
10.1-2 ‘Now I Paul myself entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I who in your presence am lowly among you, but being absent am of good courage toward you, yes, I beseech you, that I may not when present show courage with the confidence with which I count to be bold against some, who count of us as if we walked according to the flesh.’
‘Now I Paul myself entreat you.’ The reference to himself by name suggests that he is appealing to his known Apostleship. He wants them to think carefully about who is speaking to them. It may also indicate that he writes what follows in his own handwriting for emphasis. ‘Entreat you.’ He could command but he will not do so. He does not want to be harsh with them.
‘By the meekness and gentleness of Christ.’ Have his opponents been saying that he is too meek and gentle, or too gentle and gracious, too considerate? That he is not bold enough. Then let him remind them that Christ also was meek and gentle and gracious (Matthew 11.29). In that then he is like Christ. Let that be a witness to him. ‘Of Christ.’ It is as the Christ that his opponents think of Jesus. Let them then consider that He was gentle and gracious too, just like Paul is. He follows his Master.
It is always the private opinion of the self-opinionated, whatever they say in public, that being considerate and gentle is a form of weakness. They believe rather in expressing themselves and letting people know who is in charge. They were thus unable to appreciate Paul’s gentleness and tenderness. They considered that it lacked authority. In their view he ought to have shown who was boss.
‘I who in your presence am lowly among you, but being absent am of good courage toward you.’ This is referring to the impression given concerning him by his opponents. That Paul does not really think this comes out later when he says he will be as bold in their presence as he is in his letters (verse 11). Thus it can only be that he is here quoting his opponents’ words, who were pointing to his loving gentleness among the Corinthians as though it was weakness, as though it was obsequiousness, partly because he failed to use recognised methods of oratory in his preaching, and partly because he did not try to be forceful and flowery in getting over his point (because he preferred the Spirit to do His own work - 1 Corinthians 3.2-5).
But, they pointed out, once he was absent from them he ceased to be like that. He sent his strong letters, lording it over them and bold to admonish them. The ‘cringer’ when present became the tyrant when at a distance. They no doubt stressed that he had ‘run away’ when he had visited them the second time. They would not have done that. They would have stayed and fought (vindicating themselves and destroying the church by dividing and demoralising it). And where was Paul now. Had he come again to see them? No, he just wrote from a distance. (They were able to be present because not having been successful like Paul they had few responsibilities and could stay as long as they liked).
Well, says Paul. They are right in this, that like Christ I seek to be meek and lowly (Matthew 11.29) in my presentation of my message, but I will also be as firm and strong as He proved Himself to be when necessary, when I come to you, as come I will.
‘Yes, I beseech you, that I may not when present show courage with the confidence with which I count (intend) to be bold against some, who count of us as if we walked according to the flesh.’ When he does come he intends to be so bold and confident (compare 1.23) with his attackers, that he has to hope that it will not spread outwards and engulf others. He hopes that he will not need to be as bold before them all as he intends to be to some. Let them appreciate that his courage and boldness is not lacking. Indeed he begs that they may consider this for their own sakes. His concern is to prevent them all being swamped by the consequences of his courage. He would prefer rather that those consequences will be reserved for those who count him and his fellow-workers as walking in the flesh.
It would appear from this that his opponents were claiming that the Spirit was not truly at work through Paul and his associates, but that what they did was really in the flesh, and not a work of God at all (unlike his opponents of course). Their view was that the way in which Paul worked, and the attributes that he revealed, demonstrated that he was not a man of the Spirit.
10.3-5 ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.’
This is Paul’s reply. It is a play on what his opponents are saying. Yes, he says, we do walk in human bodies, but it is not with those, or with fleshly aims and methods, that we fight the spiritual warfare. ‘We do not war according to the flesh.’ We do not fight as men do, or use fleshly weapons, or with fleshly purposes in mind. Our aims and our weapons are spiritual. Thus weapons like intimidation, manipulation, half truths, trickery, being double-tongued, and using hypocritical behaviour, all things of which Paul had been accused, are ineffective in spiritual warfare
For, he says, the weapons of their warfare are not of the flesh, ‘but are mighty through God to the destroying of strongholds.’ Compare Proverbs 21.22 LXX, ‘A wise man assaults strong cities, and demolishes the fortress in which the ungodly trusted.’ God has through His Spirit given them mighty power against all strongholds, both of men and of Satan (compare Zechariah 4.6-7). The stronghold was the strongpoint within a city that could continue to hold out even when the city had fallen. It was the last to fall and its fall indicated total victory. And there are many strongholds that have to be brought crashing down. The strongholds of men’s imaginations and (false) reasonings. The strongholds of men’s exalted opinions of themselves, and of their exaltation of themselves. The strongholds of high thoughts which are not really high thoughts at all, which claim superior knowledge of Christ but are not really in obedience to Christ, which claim special illumination by the Spirit, but are not of the Spirit at all. These he will bring down.
‘Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.’ Indeed the Spirit working through them breaks down men’s imaginations and arguments, He breaks down men’s pride and arrogance, He breaks down men’s refusal to face the truth of the knowledge of God, and breaks down the blinding force of Satan that blinds their minds to it (4.4), He brings men’s minds captive in obedience to Christ (John 16.8-11). Thus Paul’s weapons are the weapons of the power of God which apply the truth of the cross and of the crucified One to men and women (1 Corinthians 1.18; 2.2, 4-5). And these are the weapons available to all who are truly His.
10.6 ‘And being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full.’
The weapons of he and his fellow-workers being so effective Paul is sure of victory. These weapons will bring the Corinthians in obedience to him and to God. And they can be sure that once they have guaranteed their full obedience to him as God’s chosen Apostle, he will avenge the disobedience of his opponents on all who have opposed him. They will be dealt with as crushed rebels.
As the obedience is to be to him as an Apostle, we must see the disobedience as also reflecting disobedience to the Apostles, possibly as not following though the decisions of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). Or he may be signifying that they are refusing to genuinely acknowledge Apostolic authority overall, rather falsely claiming such for themselves (11.13).
So once the battle is won those who have rebelled will be called to account, although he does not tell us in what way. The thought may be of exclusion from acknowledgement by the recognised worldwide church, their ‘delivering to Satan’ (1 Corinthians 5.5).
10.7 ‘You look at (or ‘Look at’) the things that are before your face. If any man trusts in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again with himself, that, even as he is Christ's, so also are we.’
It was ‘before their face’ (in their presence) that Paul was seen as lowly (verse 1), so let them now consider what is ‘before their face’, what is staring them in the face, that as his opponents trust that they are ‘Christ’s’ so do Paul and his associates. His opponents’ claim to be ‘Christ’s’ might mean that they were signifying that they were totally Christ’s because of their wonderful experiences of the Spirit, or that they had been earthly followers of Christ, in contrast with Paul. Or that they are claiming that they are subject to true Apostolic authority, the authority of those appointed by Christ. Whichever way, says Paul, I too am ‘Christ’s’, because I am totally His and subject to Him through the Spirit, and because He personally called me by name (Acts 9.4, 6), and because I have been appointed an Apostle by the Apostles themselves and their representatives (Acts 13.2; 15.22-26; Galatians 2.7-9). Let them consider this.
10.8-9 ‘For though I should glory somewhat abundantly concerning our authority (which the Lord gave for building you up, and not for casting you down), I shall not be put to shame, that I may not seem (or ‘lest I should seem’) as if I would terrify you by my letters.’
In this sentence fitting in the last clause is the difficulty. One way of seeing this is that he is saying that he could, if he wished, glory somewhat abundantly in the authority given to him by God and the Apostles (Acts 9.15-16; 13.2; Galatians 2.7-9) and use it to terrify them by written Apostolic edicts and threats. But that as that authority and power was given to him for building them up, not for ‘casting them down’, for positive reasons not for negative, he will not do it. He will not so bring shame on himself. Indeed it his opponents who are the ones who seek to cast them down, not him.
For he does not want to have to use his weapons, as described in verse 4, against them as such, only against his opponents. So he will not exert his full authority against them. He seeks only to build them up. Besides their downfall would only result in the discrediting of himself (because he will be seen to have failed)
A second way is to see it as meaning that he is declaring, ‘even though I glory, and even more (somewhat abundantly), about our authority, which the Lord gave for your upbuilding not your downfall, I will not be put to shame’ (because I will be successful in that upbuilding because of that authority). The consequence will be that he will not need to be seen as terrifying them with letters, in the way that his opponents accuse him of (verse 10).
Either way he has no intention of acting in such a way that he will be ‘put to shame’ (discredited) by the consequences of his actions, or of doing anything of which he will later be ashamed.
10.10 ‘For his letters, they say, are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.’
Using letters to exert his authority would indeed only serve to justify the words of his opponents who accuse him of being able to issue powerful written edicts, but when present among them, of being weak and a deliverer of ‘no account’ words, the raging lion turning out to be a mouse. So he will certainly not do that.
The Corinthians had undoubtedly shown Paul’s severe letter to the newcomers. And this had been their contemptuous reply as they supported each other’s authority, ‘Weighty and strong when absent. Weak and unimpressive when present.’ They were well aware of Paul’s physical weaknesses and sought to use them as an instrument with which to degrade him. This is a question that Paul will deal with later (12.7-10).
10.11 ‘Let such a one reckon this, that, what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such are we also in deed when we are present.’
But let those who see him thus be aware that when he comes he will come with all the weight and strength revealed in his letters, for that is how he will act among them. His Apostolic authority, given to him by the will of God (1.1), is under challenge. He will use every acceptable means in his power to vindicate it. No longer will they see the meek and lowly Apostle. They will see the victor in battle of verses 3-5, the one who is mighty through God. God will vindicate him.
10.12 ‘For we are not bold to number or compare ourselves with certain of them that commend themselves: but they themselves, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves with themselves, are without understanding.’
For he uses different measurements from them. He has no intention of boldly comparing himself with these men whose only recommendation was that they commended themselves by the simple expedient of commending each other, with the other then returning the compliment. Nor of numbering himself with them. He will not degrade himself by implying that they are of equal status with himself. They are not. They are such that they must be discredited. They look at each other, and exalt each other, thereby also, by reciprocation, exalting themselves, for they measure themselves against each other, and pat each other on the back. In so behaving they reveal their lack of understanding. They are saying in effect, ‘we all say that we are wonderful and so it must be true’. They fail to recognise that they are propping each other up nonsensically, and that the measure that they use is unreliable. That they are behaving foolishly. He might well have pointed out that ‘self-commendation is no recommendation’.
10.13 ‘But we will not glory beyond our measure, but according to the measure of the province (boundary, area within boundaries) which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even to you.’
Paul on the other hand will not glory beyond measure. He does not need to do so to prop up a failing image. He will not use a measurement suggested by men at all. He will certainly not measure himself against others, hoping that they will return the compliment. He will use God’s measurement, a measurement revealed by His mighty work in Corinth through Paul. That had demonstrated that in God’s eyes this was Paul’s province, the place where had the right to take charge. That is the measure that God has apportioned to him, the province God gave him in which to demonstrate his genuine calling, and in which he succeeded. And that will be his boast. What can they show compared with this?
We can compare here 1 Corinthians 4.15, 19. It was he who by God’s power established the church in Corinth. That was the final proof of his authority and power. What had these men done to compare with that? They may have fine words, but where is their power? How many new churches have they founded on virgin territory?
Paul is here claiming that God had a set purpose for him, that He had as it were, allocated certain areas which he was to evangelise. It had, as it were, been measured out to him with a measuring rod, and the Corinthians were within his boundaries, as is demonstrated by his success.
10.14-16 ‘For we stretch not ourselves overmuch, as though we reached not to you, for we came even as far as to you in the gospel of Christ, not glorying beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labours, but having hope that, as your faith grows, we shall be magnified in you according to our province to further abundance, so as to preach the gospel even to the parts beyond you, not to glory in another’s province in regard of things ready to our hand.’
We are not over-exaggerating what we are and what we have done, says Paul. We are not over-stretching ourselves in order to reach you, making claims that we have not achieved. For when none other had we did actually stretch out and we did reach you with the Gospel of Christ. We are not, like them, glorying beyond measure, that is, glorying in other men’s labours, in what other men have achieved, what other men have reached, rather than in the measure of our own achievements. Rather our hope is that as your faith grows so it will reflect to our credit because it was we who led you to Christ. We will be vindicated by it. And we will thus be enabled to successfully and fruitfully advance further into the area that has been allocated to us by God, achieving even more successes , preaching the Gospel in places yet unreached, which are even further off from Jerusalem than you are (‘beyond you’ - see Acts 1.8).
The idea may include that Paul having established the Gospel in the main city, his converts become established and take that Gospel outward to the surrounding areas.
His point is clear. These who boast in themselves are parasites. Not for them expansion into the unknown. They prefer to follow up others, poaching on what they have achieved. For they have no power in themselves to establish new churches. They can only pick other men’s fruit, the fruit from other men’s labours. They are not true Apostles. They are scrumping.
‘Not to glory in another’s province in regard of things ready to our hand.’ That is, not making our boast in what someone else has done and achieved, (like they do), not taking advantage of things ready to hand, plucking things with our hands that are easily available, and then claiming that we have somehow improved them. His words are derisory of those who make great claims for themselves and yet prove their inadequacy by not being able to achieve anything for themselves. In their self-conceit they can only act as spoilers.
10.17 ‘But he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’
In context this is not just a general statement, true and right though such a general statement might be. It is applicable to what he has been saying. In his case his glorying is not in himself but in the Lord. All that he has achieved has been through Him. He is glorying in what the Lord has achieved. So let all behave in the same way. Let all who would glory have something to glory in that the Lord has done through them. Woe to those who merely glory in what they themselves have done.
The same quotation, probably based on Jeremiah 9.24, appears in 1 Corinthians 1.31. The idea there is that our glory should be only in Jesus Christ in Whom is total salvation, which is why God has chosen the weak and foolish things of the world to put to shame the mighty. There the thought is that all credit should go to the Lord and not man. Salvation is His work and not dependent on man’s ability. In contrast here he thought is that those who are Christ’s should only glory in what He achieves through them.
10.18 ‘For it is not he who commends himself who is approved, but whom the Lord commends.’
Because the value of a commendation lies in who makes it. Those who are, or should be, approved are those whom the Lord commends by His effective working through them. Those who commend themselves deserve no approval. Let the Corinthians consider therefore which is true of whom. Who successfully wooed Corinth for Christ? Who successfully established their growing church? Who has done the same elsewhere? Is it not clear that he is the one whom the Lord has commended, not those who creep in afterwards and cause trouble in the flock. Whose weapons of warfare (verse 4) then have proved effective? Let them consider for themselves and give their approval to the right person.
Paul Defends His Apostleship And Compares Himself With His Opponents (11.1-33).
An exact determination of who the visiting preachers were who constituted the new grave threat to Paul’s ministry, is not possible, but we may certainly discover many of their characteristics. ‘Are they Hebrews? Are they Israelites?’ (11.22) demonstrates that the intruders were Jewish Christians, but the lack of references to circumcision and the Mosaic law indicates that they were not like the Judaising opponents mentioned in Galatians, feeling bound by the Law. Rather they claimed special knowledge, and superior powers and super spiritual experiences.
It seems probable that they came from Jerusalem and cited the twelve as their authority, (without necessarily having justification), for Paul asserts his equality with the twelve (11.5). But he has no truck with the claim to Apostleship of the intruders themselves. They are ‘false Apostles’. Whereas the opponents in Galatians appear to have stressed their Jewishness, including the necessity for circumcision and keeping the Law, these may rather have been Hellenistic (affected by Greek civilisation) Jews, stressing experiences of the Spirit. They also stress that they are ‘Christ’s’ (10.7). This may suggest that they knew Him in His earthly ministry, or were disciples of those who had.
The absence of specific theological argument might suggest that doctrinal questions were not the main issue, unless he considers that he has already combated this (2.14-7.1), but he does refer to ‘another Jesus’, ‘another spirit’ and ‘another Gospel’ (11.4), and it is difficult to see how he could describe them as ministers of Satan if he saw them as orthodox (11.15). His comments on them there are most scathing. However, most of Paul's efforts in 10.7-12.13 are spent in combating the suggestion that his credentials were inferior to theirs, and that might suggest lack of content to their message rather than specific gross unorthodoxy. Possibly they saw Jesus as a wonderworking teacher, mighty in the Spirit, just as they considered that they were, a diminishing of His deity.
For it is clear from the context that these intruders do lay great importance on such things as the outward display of the Spirit, and oratorical skills and heritage. "Signs, wonders and miracles" are "things that mark an apostle" (12.12), and "visions and revelations" are grounds for boasting (12.1). They pride themselves on eloquent speech (10.10; 11.6) and correct heritage (11.22). This might tie in with the portrayal of the intruders in chapters 1-7 as those who seek to legitimise their authority through letters of recommendation, and who take pride in what is outward rather than in what is in the heart (5.12), assuming they are connected. Those apparently saw the covenant made with Moses as of prime importance (chapter 3).
Part of their argument against Paul is that as well as not being an orator, he also has to work to support himself, unlike the true Apostles who could depend on those to whom they went for their keep (Matthew 10.9-13). (Paul turns this argument against them). And they seek to demean his very appearance and the fact that he has a disability from which God does not heal him. He can clearly not be an Apostle.
Paul Continues His Defence. He Expresses His Concern For Them And His Fear Lest They Be Led Astray. He Defends His Policy Of Not Letting Them Maintain Him And Sums Up His Opponents As False Apostles. (11.1-15).
11.1 ‘Would that you could bear with me in a little foolishness. Yes, indeed, do bear with me.’
In his defence of his Apostleship he admits that he is going to say things which appear a little ‘foolish’, and he trusts that they will bear with him. Indeed he repeats his request for their indulgence. It is not what they would expect to hear from ‘the wise’. But he puts on no pretence of being worldly wise, and somewhat mysterious. He speaks openly and honestly of himself like ‘a fool’.
He is aware that such talk is folly from someone like him, but he feels that he has been left with no choice. Yet he does want them to know that usually he does not like talking like this about himself, as he would rather speak of Christ, but they have left him no option if his message is to be vindicated. He must defend his position.
11.2 ‘For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ.’
He stresses that he is concerned for them like a father for his virgin daughter. Just as Yahweh was jealous over Israel (Hosea 1-3; Ezekiel 16; Isaiah 50.1-2; 54.1-8; 62.5), so is he jealous over them, lest someone come and spoil their relationship with Christ. He has espoused them to Christ so that they may be kept pure, so as to have Him as their one husband. He does not want anything interfering with the purity of their relationship with Him, or to interfere with their purity. The Husband will expect to receive His bride in a state of faithfulness and obedience, as untarnished. He will not want her to have been dallying with others. And it is Paul’s responsibility as her ‘father’, the one who brought her to birth, and has espoused her to Christ, to ensure that she is kept in such purity.
In the ancient Near East, parents typically chose a wife for their son, often early in life, and arranged for the marriage by a legal contract, a betrothal. It was then the responsibility of the father of the bride-to-be to ensure his daughter's virginity during that betrothal period. Betrothal was considered almost as binding as marriage itself. The betrothed couple addressed each other as “wife" and "husband” (Deuteronomy 22.23-24; Joel 1.8), and sexual faithfulness was considered vital. As a guarantee of this a bloodstained cloth was exhibited as proof of virginity on the wedding night.
So he again stresses that the Corinthian church owes its very existence to him. He is their only ‘father’.
11.3 ‘But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ.’
But he admits that he is afraid, that just as the serpent beguiled Eve by his devilish cleverness and subtlety, so their minds might be being corrupted from the simple purity of laying all their hope in Christ and what He is. He does not want anything to come between them and Christ. He wants no veil on their minds. He wants no extras (1 Corinthians 2.2). Just pure and true faith in Christ.
While he does not say so the implication is that Satan is behind these attempts to delude them, and that the deluders are Satan’s instruments (compare verses 13-14).
The reference to Eve may well include the inference that the church is the ‘second or last Eve’ as Jesus is the ‘second man’, the ‘last Adam’, but it is not spelt out. However the close connection with the previous verse suggests it. So the words have in mind that living in this present world is for Christians as a whole a preparation for their presentation to Christ, the One Who is the life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15.45, 47-49). The new Eve is being prepared for her new ‘Adam’.
11.4 ‘For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if you receive a different spirit, which you did not receive, or a different gospel, which you did not accept, do you do well to bear with it (or ‘him’)?’
The ‘if’ is with the indicative suggesting something that has actually happened. We might translate ‘when’. The context explains what he means. The point is that another husband, another Jesus, is being preached and is distracting her from the One to Whom she is espoused. Indeed the speed with which they have responded to the new teachers makes him feel that they are quite ready to be unfaithful. As a ‘father’ he is distraught.
He applies the same principle to the receiving of spirit and to the message of the Gospel. He fears that they have been willing to respond to a different spirit than the life-giving spirit of Christ (3.6, 17; 1 Corinthians 15.45) or the Holy Spirit (John 7.39; 20.22) and to a different Gospel. This reminds us of 1 Corinthians 12-14 where there was also warning of the need to ensure that the right Spirit is speaking to them. To open themselves to other spirits will result in them being deceived. So here they are in danger of responding to wrong spirits and listening to a watering down of the Good News.
‘Do you do well to bear with it?’ This final question is to make them stop and think. Perhaps they will pause in their folly and remain faithful after all to Christ as portrayed by Paul. Or we may translate ‘you bear with it well’, as a sarcastic comment.
11.5 ‘For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the very highest ranking apostles.’
In view of this he feels it necessary as their ‘father’ to establish his position and authority. He wants them to know that he is in no way an inferior Apostle, a second class one. His teaching and authority is equal to that of ‘the very highest ranking’, Peter, James and John and the other Apostles. So he is a top-ranking Apostle and to turn from his teaching is to turn from the true Gospel. He is thus superior to his opponents, who are not of the highest ranking Apostles, and he should therefore be heeded.
The fact that Paul here claims equality with ‘the highest ranking Apostles’, and not superiority confirms that the twelve are in mind here. Had he sarcastically intended ‘these superlative Apostles’, i.e. his opponents, he would surely not simply have claimed equality.
11.6 ‘But if it be that I am rude in speech, yet am I not in knowledge; no, in every way have we made this openly clear to you in all things.’
His opponents are accusing him of not preaching like a trained orator. Well, he will not agree with their verdict, but even if it were true it is his deliberate policy not to flaunt himself and not to hide the truth with flowery words (1 Corinthians 2.1-5). Nevertheless that says nothing about what he knows, about the knowledge that he possesses. He certainly is not ‘rude’ (lacking as an amateur, as a layman) in knowledge. He has fullness of knowledge, as the Twelve do. He knows the ‘full knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (4.6). And indeed he and his co-workers have made all the knowledge that they have openly clear in every way. They do not hide it behind verbosity or superiority.
11.7 ‘Or did I commit a sin in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel of God for nought?’
Or are they blaming him for not accepting payment from them for what they have taught them, and saying thereby he did wrong? It was the Greek view that an orator should be paid by those who wanted to hear him. That was the sign of a distinguished orator. And Jesus Himself had told His Apostles that as they went out they should trust those among whom they went for supplies. However, that was in a different context, and for a different reason, in a land where hospitality could be expected in God’s name to those who came from God. But Paul had abased himself by working with his hands making tents so that he would not have to accept payment from them. Do they consider that this is a sin? This is probably irony. He makes the statement as an argument for his defence. He is expecting that when they think about it they will approve the fact that he is not after their money, and is not burdensome to them, but earns his own way.
This does, however, demonstrate that the matter had become a point at issue. The intruders may well have suggested that Paul was slighting the Corinthians by not accepting their permanent hospitality. But, he points out, his purpose in abasing himself was that they might be ‘lifted up’ by his message, recognising its essential truth and that it was not of this world, rather than seeing him just as an orator and money-grabber. He wanted them to see that he brought them heavenly truth, not just went through an act. That is what he wants them to think about and recognise. He had not come to be a burden, but to give them freely of the truth that exalts men.
Or the idea of being ‘exalted’ might refer to their being lifted up out of sin and set on high with Christ (Ephesians 2.6; Colossians 3.1-2).
‘Abase myself.’ He supported himself by engaging in the trade that was native to his home province of Cilicia, working with goats'-hair cloth, which was used to make cloaks, curtains, tents and other articles intended to give protection against the damp (Acts 18.3). The idea that Paul lowered himself by doing this is thoroughly Greek. Within Judaism, manual labour was not denigrated. It was part of Paul's training as a Rabbi that he should support himself through some form of manual labour. The attitude in Greek society, however, was quite different, especially among the upper classes. For the educated or the person of high social standing to have to do manual work was considered personally demeaning. They were above dirtying their hands.
His was no easy option. The life of an itinerant worker was hard. Even a craftsman who stayed in one place and developed a regular clientele had to work from sunrise to sunset every day to make ends meet. But to be constantly on the road, as Paul was, meant that each time he went to a new town he had to start afresh and undercut the residential tentmakers or work for them. Opposition from competitors would only increase his difficulties
11.8 ‘I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister to you.’
Indeed he had done more. He had accepted money from other churches so as not to have to rely on them. ‘Robbed.’ Perhaps there is a sarcastic suggestion in the use of this word that his opponents were ‘robbing’ the Corinthians. They robbed the Corinthians, while he ‘robbed’ other churches. It may however signify that he is suggesting that he had taken as ‘wages’ what was not his due from other churches, because he did nothing for it, and it should have been paid by the church to which he was preaching. He is not really suggesting that he has robbed them, only describing it from the Corinthian viewpoint. The other churches had given quite willingly. Or it may include the thought that he found it hard to accept gifts from the Macedonians because he knew how poor they were, and felt that he was robbing them.
11.9 ‘And when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man, for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want, and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so will I keep myself.’
In fact the truth was that when times of need did arise while he was with them he had still refused to be a burden to them. Rather his need was met by visitors from Macedonia who came bringing gifts. So there was no way in which he had been a burden to them. And he intends to keep it that way. He will not allow himself to be accused of preaching for reward, of preaching for any other reason than to bring the truth of Christ. This suggests that Corinth was full of preachers of all kinds, and of many religions and philosophies, whose main concern was to be paid for what they did. He did not want to appear to be like them.
The probability must be that he has taken up this position both in order to make clear that all he was concerned about was conveying the truth, and because he wanted his behaviour to act as a lesson to the Corinthians in view of their attitude towards money. He was demonstrating that money was not the most important thing in life, and that he for one was no lover of money, and he would continue to think in that way. Or alternately it may have been so as to make clear to them that he was not just a paid orator. He did not want to be just another Corinthian nine day wonder. But it proved the important difference between him and such as his opponents.
11.10-11 ‘As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this glorying in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I love you not? God knows.’
And ‘as the truth of Christ is in him’. That is what matters to him. It is because he is full of the truth of Christ that he will glory in making the Gospel without charge throughout Achaia (ancient Achaia, the region around Corinth). That is the reason why he does not want to be a pedlar of knowledge. He does not want any hindrance to the spread of this truth. He does not want there to be any danger that he might be accused of false motives. He wants all to recognise that what matters to him is the truth of Christ. But did they think that he was doing this because he did not love them? Let them think about it. Such an idea was folly. Indeed ‘God Himself knows’ the truth. He was doing it precisely because of his loving concern for them, and because he wanted the best for them.
11.12 ‘But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity that in that in which they glory, they may be found even as we.’
And he intends to continue doing what he has been doing, so that he may cut off from his opponents the opportunity of making themselves appear as on level terms with him, which is their great desire.
‘Desire an opportunity that in that in which they glory, they may be found even as we.’ Their desire is for the opportunity to show themselves as on equality with Paul in the things they boast about, so that their message might be equally acceptable. They are trying to bring him down to their level for this purpose. But he is cutting off that opportunity for they cannot compete with his making his Gospel free of charge. They do not have the will or the desire, and disdain the means. And that is why he will continue to make the Gospel free to all, so as to clearly differentiate himself from them. They were quite comfortable in being a charge on the Corinthians and living off them as reward for their preaching, (for after a time gladly given hospitality could easily become a burden, and they seem to have been misusing the privilege which they claimed was their right) and they did not want anything to change. But it sat ill in comparison with one who preached freely and was in no way a burden on them even from the start.
Many refer ‘opportunity’ back so that his idea is that they are ‘seeking an opportunity to declare that he is greedy and after their money’. For, he is saying, the fact is that they are simply looking for any opportunity to lay a charge against him. Because he does not accept money for his labours, they say he is not a genuine Apostle because he is demonstrating that he has no right to the support of the church. If he did receive reward they would simply say he was greedy and was more concerned with money than with the truth of his message.
Either way, once they have done that they will be able to declare themselves on level terms with him.
Others see the opportunity that they are seeking as the opportunity to operate on level terms in the sphere which was allocated to him by the Apostles, Apostleship to the Gentiles. They are saying that it is they exclusively, not he, who have been sent by the Apostles in Jerusalem to proclaim Christ in this area, which gives them the right to maintenance and to demand the obedience of the church. (Compare 10.13-16).
11.13-15 ‘For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for even Satan fashions himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works.’
And they do this because they are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into the apostles of Christ.
Note that their falsehood lies in their claim to be ‘Apostles of Christ’. They are seeking supreme authority, and seeking to supplant him. But it was he to whom the Apostleship to the Gentiles had been granted, both by the Apostles and by God (Galatians 2.8; Romans 11.13; Acts 9.9, 15-16). It is not that Paul seeks to prevent others labouring among the Gentiles. He stated himself that one sows and another waters (1 Corinthians 3.6-9), and he was delighted that Christ was preached even by those who were not in full accord with him (Philippians 1.18). But it was another thing when they claimed supreme authority and the right to take over the church.
They are false because they make false claims to be Apostles, they are deceitful because they back those false claims with spurious authority, and reveal it by their deceitful activities, and in the end they are only self-made ‘Apostles’. No one has appointed them as Apostles. They do not have the rights that they claim.
Given the unique status of the Twelve it is not surprising that men should seek such a privilege. The Apostles were the deposit of the truth. Those who sought self-glory would never be satisfied with less, even though it was patently not available. It was for those for whom it had been prepared in the same way as was authority under the Rule of God (Matthew 20.23; Mark 10.40). The church constantly had to reject such false claims (Revelation 2.2). And later the same sad state of affairs would result from the false application of the term ‘Bishop’, which came to mean almost the equivalent of ‘Apostle’, one who could make authoritative declarations. But these men who rejected Paul had taken their ‘sending forth’ (apostello) by the Jerusalem church as more significant than it was. They had got above themselves. (Given its importance it is in fact quite remarkable how few did tend to make such claims for themselves).
But this should not surprise anyone, says Paul. For Satan too sets himself up as having false authority. He sets himself up as an angel of light in order to deceive. This was apparent when he came to Jesus after His baptism and sought to give Him ‘heavenly’ guidance (Matthew 4.1-10; Luke 4.1-12 compare Matthew 16.23).
There is no real need therefore to turn to Jewish fables for an explanation although some suggest that he is drawing on a Jewish legend similar to what is later found in the Life of Adam and Eve 9.1, where Satan transforms himself into brightness as of angels and pretends to grieve with Eve, who sits weeping by the River Tigris, and in the Apocalypse of Moses 17.1-2, where Satan comes to Eve in the form of an angel at the time when the angels are going up to worship God and tempts her to eat of the fruit of the tree.
Paul often writes elsewhere about false teachers, but nowhere else does he speak of false apostles. Thus he is not here just calling them false teachers, even though he does make clear that their teaching also is deficient (verse 4). They were not just conflicting with Paul’s teaching. He could have dealt with that by doctrinal teaching as in Galatians. They were denying him any right to authority in the sphere to which he had been appointed. Thus he has to defend his authority.
‘It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness.’ Just as Satan, ruler of the ‘power of darkness’ (Colossians 1.13) presents himself as an angel of ‘light’, so do his servants and ministers who are unjustified before God and unrighteous before men put on the shape of being ministers of righteousness. They act out a form of righteousness, a form of godliness without its power (2 Timothy 3.5). They are play actors acting out a scene so as to impress men.
‘Whose end shall be according to their works.’ But note that their end will be in accordance with what they reveal themselves to be by their works. In the end all judgment is by works, because they finally reveal what a man is. It is just that the Christian has been cleansed from his evil works, has been covered with the works of Christ Who is made to us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1.30; 2 Corinthians 5.21), and begins a new life of righteousness evidenced in his works. Yet he too will in the end be justified by works, both the works of Christ imputed to him, and the resulting works he does in Christ (Matthew 12.37; James 2.21-25; Revelation 20.12). The former are the basis of his salvation, the latter the fruit.
He ‘Foolishly’ Compares Himself With His Opponents (11.16-12.13).
11.16 ‘I say again, let no man think me foolish; but if you do, yet as foolish receive me, that I also may glory a little.’
He does not want to be thought ‘foolish’ for what he is about to say (compare verse 1), even though he is about to glory in himself, like the foolish do (10.12). But if they wish to receive him as foolish, that is fine with him. Let them receive him as foolish, just so long as he can ‘boast’ a little and they will listen.
11.17 ‘That which I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of glorying.’
He wants them understand the nature of his boasting, to recognise that he is not speaking in the normal way for those who follow the Lord. The approach he is taking is not the normal one they should expect from a spiritual person or from a servant of the Lord. By having confidence in boasting he is behaving like the foolish. But it is necessary here because only in this way can he counteract the boasting of his opponents. There are times when counteracting evil that we have to do things that we would not otherwise do. (He is not suggesting that he is actually disobeying or ignoring the Lord, that would have been anathema to him).
11.18 ‘Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also.’
His opponents are boasting like human beings because of their unspiritual nature, boasting in their human status and behaviour, glorying after the flesh. So he, in order to combat them, intends to do the same. But this is not what one would expect of one who walks according to the Lord. We should note that he is not here really denying God’s inspiration, or that he is doing the right thing. What he is doing is emphasising how unusual this approach is for one who is in the Lord, arising only out of special circumstances.
11.19-20 ‘For you bear with the foolish gladly, being wise yourselves. For you bear with a man, if he brings you into bondage, if he devours you, if he takes you captive, if he exalts himself, if he smites you on the face.’
It has become necessary because, in their supposed wisdom, it appears that they listen to fools. Let them then bear with him as he speaks like a fool. They think that they are ‘wise’, but he speaks of their ‘wisdom’ sarcastically because they are clearly not behaving wisely at all. They put up with those who enslave them, who force them to do what they want; with those who devour their possessions by living lavishly off them; with those who ‘take them’ (make them captives to their false teaching or even possibly sexually misuse their daughters under the pretence of religion); with those who exalt themselves and treat them roughly so as to demonstrate that they are in charge. And the mesmerised Corinthians are putting up with it because of the great claims these people are making.
Note the contrast with Paul. Instead of bringing them into bondage he betrothed them to Christ (verse 2). Instead of devouring their possessions he refused in any way to be a charge on them (verse 9). Instead of making them captive to his own teaching he brought them the truth (verse 10). Instead of lording it over them he has been meek and gentle among them (10.1) and loved them (verse 11). Can they not see the difference?
11.21 ‘I speak by way of disparagement, as though we had been weak. Yet in whatever any is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am bold also.’
By saying this he is disparaging them for bearing with fools who are characterised by brashness, in contrast with whom he had been thought of as weak. (Or the disparagement may be of himself for having been weak). Those whom they elect to follow are the exact opposite of Paul, brashly strong, demanding, belligerently authoritative. He is revealed in contrast as ‘weak’, although not really weak.
But now he is about to reveal that in whatever these fine fellows are bold, he has equal right to be bold (although, he admits, such comparisons are foolish, and not to be encouraged in other circumstances).
11.22 ‘Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.’
His roots are every bit as good as theirs. They boast of their antecedents as ‘true Hebrew speaking Jews’ connected with Jerusalem - For this use of ‘Hebrews’ see Acts 6.1. Well, so is he. For he grew up in Jerusalem under the teaching of Gamaliel. Are they ‘genuine born Israelites’? Well, so is he. His parents were Hebrews, and he is of the tribe of Benjamin. Are they the fleshly ‘seed of Abraham’, well, so is he. See Philippians 3.5. It would appear that his opponents were laying great stress on these connections as demonstrating their superiority to the Corinthians. They were the true children of the covenant given through Moses, in which the Gentiles have a secondary part. There is here a demoting of Christian Gentiles. That is why elsewhere Paul argues that Gentile Christians equally are part of the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.12-22) and are the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3.28-29).
11.23 ‘Are they servants (ministers - diakonoi) - of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labours more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths often.’
Do they claim to be servants of Christ? (They may well have been able to claim that they had actually been to some extent His disciples while he was on earth, even though they were not behaving like it). He will now speak as though he was a bit mad, otherwise he would not think of boasting in this way. He is even more a genuine servant of Christ. Whatever their claims he has worked harder and more abundantly for Christ than any of them, he has been in prison for Christ more often, he has been beaten for Christ more times than he can count, he has indeed often stared death in the face for Christ’s sake.
11.24-27 ‘Of the Jews five times I received forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep, in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in labour and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.’
He outlines his credentials. By the very Jews whom they boast that they are one with, he has five times received the maximum beating allowed, forty stripes less one (compare Deuteronomy 25.2-3). He has been beaten with Roman rods three times by the lictors (rod-bearers - Acts 16.22). Strictly as a Roman citizen he was exempt from such treatment but the law was as regularly abused as used. Some observed it, others ignored it as both Cicero and Josephus bring out.
He has been stoned. This would be by Jews, it was a Jewish form of punishment for blasphemy. See Acts 14.5, 19. He has been shipwrecked three times. Regular travellers at sea, especially in smaller boats, were often subject to shipwreck due to sudden storms. On one such occasion he spent a night and a day keeping himself afloat in the sea (or in a small boat similar to a lifeboat) before being rescued. He has faced every form of difficulty and danger that regularly faced travellers who went unescorted. Arduous journeys. Perilous river crossings. Danger from robbers. Threats, whether from his own countrymen, or from Gentiles. He has been imperilled in all types of surroundings, whether in cities or in the countryside, or in the desert, or in the sea, or among ‘pseudo-brethren’, some who like his opponents in Corinth sought to destroy him. He has laboured and had to struggle hard, he has often had to stay awake at night because of threats all around, he has been hungry and thirsty, he has gone without food often, he has been bitterly cold and insufficiently clothed, often in rags. (How are his opponents doing in comparison with this in the service of Christ?)
11.28 ‘Besides those things that are without (or ‘that I have left out’), there is that which presses on me daily, anxiety for all the churches.’
And there were other difficulties too, but he could not include them all. And as hard as all these troubles put together was the burden of care he bore for all the churches, which pressed on him daily. Always thinking of them, always praying for them, always wondering how he can encourage them, always trying to work out the best way that he can help them. ‘All the churches.’ That is, those that he and his companions have founded. (How are his opponents comparing now? Do they have many churches that they constantly bear a burden for?)
11.29 ‘Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is caused to stumble, and I burn not?’
For as a true servant of Christ he takes the burden of the weak Christians on himself (1 Corinthians 9.22), as he well can because he recognises his own weakness. He gets alongside them as one weak person to another. And when they stumble he burns with anguish. He has personal concern for all his spiritual children (compare 1.4-6).
‘Burn’ is taken in various ways, but it must surely in context be a burning in sympathy, or alternately a burning in anger at what causes them to stumble.
The term weak can be interpreted in a number of ways. He could be including those who have a fragile conscience, as in Romans 14.1-23; 1 Corinthians 8.7-13, or Christians who felt themselves powerless in society, or Christians who do not have the spiritual fortitude to overcome temptation, or all, for he may well mean those weak in any way. Whenever God’s people are weak he suffers with them and sympathises with them in their experience. For he has been through it all himself.
11.30 ‘If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness.’
So if he is to boast he will boast about the things which show he is weak, He does not glory in his splendour like his opponents do, he glories in his weaknesses which show him to be a sharer in the sufferings of Christ (1.6), and one who can come alongside people in their weakness. They demonstrate that he carries the cross daily (4.10-11; 1 Corinthians 15.31). They demonstrate that he is willing to endure for Christ as a true and faithful servant.
11.31 ‘The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for evermore, knows that I lie not.’
And in order to ensure that they recognise his genuineness he calls on God to be his witness. The One Who is the God and the Father of the Lord Jesus (compare 1.3). The One Who is blessed for evermore. The explanations are in order to emphasise His greatness, so as to stress even more His reliability. He is the One who knows that Paul is telling the truth.
11.32-33 ‘In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to take me, and through a window was I let down in a basket by the wall, and escaped his hands.’
He finishes this aspect of his glorying with a personal example, which went back to his earliest days as a Christian. One which he never forgot. The letting down in a basket contrasts with being caught up to the third heaven (12.2) and with his spiritual destruction of fortresses (10.4-5). He knew what it was to have both the downs and the ups. Because of one governor (ethnarch), acting on a king’s behalf, he was lowered over a wall in a basket (the basket in question would have been a bag of braided rope, suitable for carrying hay, straw or bales of wool) through an aperture in the wall, a humiliating experience and in itself a reminder of his weakness. This underlined all he had said about afflictions and danger, and was in total contrast to 10.4 where the thought included that of scaling the walls, thus showing that he is outwardly weak, even if inwardly powerful. And it also contrasts with his being lifted up to the third heaven by another King. In the flesh he suffers humiliation and tribulation, in the Spirit he soars above all.
The governor or ethnarch ruled the city on behalf of Aretas, who was a Nabataean king. Or alternately he may have been ethnarch of the Nabataeans living in the city. Either way he was determined to prevent Paul leaving the city by watching the gates, resulting in his ignominious exit. No climbing of fortresses here. Only humiliation. But once again God’s power was revealed through weakness.
Note on Aretas.
The political status of Damascus at the time of Paul's stay there is not certain. It is unclear whether it was under Roman rule, Nabataean rule under the Romans, or some kind of joint Roman-Nabataean rule. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the Greek term "ethnarch" (ethnarches) could refer to the governor of the city or to the ruler of a major ethnic group within the city. Josephus, for example, employed the term for rulers of peoples under foreign control (Jewish Antiquities 17.11.4; Jewish Wars 2.6.3), and Strabo tells of how an ethnarch was granted to the Jews in Alexandria because of their large numbers (17.798). A reasonable conjecture is that "ethnarch" refers to the leader of a semi-autonomous colony of Nabataeans in the city during the rule of Gaius (AD 37-41). But this was a time when the policy of client kingdoms on the eastern frontier was in force.
The king in question was Aretas IV Philopatris who was the last and most famous of the Nabataean kings under that name. He reigned in Petra from 9 BC to AD 40. Herod Antipas, who ruled the regions of Galilee and Perea, divorced Aretas' daughter to marry Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Philip. Aretas naturally took this personally and bided his time until several years later, when he invaded Perea and was able to defeat Herod's forces in AD 36. Rome was unhappy about this but their retaliation was forestalled by the death of the emperor Tiberius. Caligula favoured Aretas, It is thought that Aretas’ rule may well for a time have included Damascus, (although he need not have been there at the time mentioned). It would explain the ability of his ethnarch to guard the city (gates) continually (imperfect tense). The absence of Roman coinage there between AD 34 and 62 may hint at this but is not decisive.
Luke's account of the same episode attributes Paul's flight to "the Jews," who were conspiring to kill him, and were keeping a close watch on the city gates (Acts 9.23-25). Whether this was in cooperation with the authorities, or for the purpose of private vengeance we do not have sufficient information to know. Having obtained the cooperation of the authorities in order to arrest Paul they may well have wanted to ensure that he did not escape by themselves also watching the gates with a view to killing him.
End of Note.
He Glories in Wondrous Experiences, Dreadful Weakness and The Manifestation of Miracles, In All of Which He Is a Match For His Opponents (12.1-13)
Having stressed the differences between himself and the opposing visiting preachers in that he had been the one who founded their church and first built up a people in Corinth for Christ (11.2); in that he had brought the Corinthians the true knowledge about Jesus (11.6); in that he made it free and without charge (11.7-10); and in that he came in humility and not in an overbearing way (10.1; 11.29), and having matched their claims to pure descent (11.22) and having more than matched their claims to being servants of Jesus Christ (11.23-29), Paul now goes on to look at the further attributes which they boast about as making them superior, their visions and revelations, and their performing of ‘signs’.
And yet how hard he finds it to ‘boast’ comes out in that he refers to what he is about to describe in the third person. He does not want to speak of it brazenly. He does not want to focus attention on himself. It had been so awe-inspiring and holy that he cannot speak of it directly. Indeed so uniquely awe-inspiring that God had to give him something to counterbalance it in order to keep him genuinely humble. That is why he has just mentioned his humiliating descent in the basket, and will mention his ‘thorn in the flesh’, in order to keep a proper perspective. And he then expresses regret that he has to mention his other-worldly experience at all. For even the experience itself was ‘unspeakable’, something that could not be talked about.
What a contrast there is here between Paul and his opponents. Instead of glorying in his unique experience he pulls back a corner of the curtain and then immediately closes it. But he has let enough light through for the signal to be picked up. None of his opponents have even dared to claim an experience like this, and none have had an experience which needed to be followed by God’s action to prevent them becoming too exalted about it.
12.1 ‘I must needs glory, though it is not expedient; but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.’
His glorying must necessarily go on in order to combat his opponents, even though in other circumstances it would be ‘not on’, it would not be acceptable behaviour. And he will now consider his opponent’s claims that they have visions and revelations of the Lord. This was no doubt what had impressed the Corinthians the most. These men spoke in tongues, prophesied, received revelations, (1 Corinthians 14.26), had wondrous experiences of the Spirit in visions (described by themselves), did they? They heard and they saw. And they spoke loudly about what they experienced? Well, let them consider or rival this.
12.2-4 ‘I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knows), such a one caught up even to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knows), how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.’
Fourteen years ago he had had an experience that went beyond all experiences. It was the very basis of his unique Apostleship. He does not know whether it happened to him physically, or whether he was lifted out of his body spiritually. God is the only One Who knows that. But he knows that it happened, and that it happened ‘in Christ’. He was caught up into ‘the third heaven’, into Paradise itself. Not just the heavens above, nor the heavens where spiritual activity is taking place, but the very presence of God Himself. And there he heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter (compare Revelation 10.4). He received revelations which he cannot mention or describe. He was given a unique insight into God and His ways. He was made uniquely aware of the glory of God. And they were things which were for him alone and of which he has no right to speak. If his opponents had had an experience such as that they too would have been unwilling to talk about it. For it was God-forbidden.
It is doubtful whether this refers to his experience on the Damascus Road. Indeed part of the reason for his previous mention of his escape from Damascus may have been to cancel out such an idea. For there the words he heard were made known. And then he was not ‘a man in Christ’. This was something so profound in this experience that it was the highpoint of his spiritual life. But he mentions it to keep his opponents’ claims in perspective. They boast of visions and revelations. Then let them know that he has had such which were far more excessive than anything they had ever known.
But his refusal to say more not only brings out the awesomeness of his experience, but also illustrates the fact that he is not prepared to compare visions blow by blow. The fact is that if they had had a vision like his they would not talk about it. That puts all their boasts in perspective. In his presence let them keep quiet. Compared with his their experiences are paltry.
Paul certainly had other visions and revelations. See acts 9.3-19; 16.9; 18.9-10; 22.17-21. But compared with this one they were as nothing. He did not even release details of it to Luke. And even here, having established the fact, he leaves it there. He will not supply the detail of that particular experience to bolster his case. It was completely other-worldly.
‘A man in Christ.’ This was important. His experience was as a result of his being ‘in Christ’. It was no pagan experience or connected with the mysteries. It was because of his closeness to the living Christ that he had had the experience. All that had happened to him then was ‘In Christ’.
‘Caught up.’ Only used twice by Paul (compare 1 Thessalonians 4.17). It was to be taken out of the material world into a heavenly dimension to meet with God or with Christ. It was to be caught up to the realm beyond the known.
‘Whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knows.’ This is repeated twice which stresses its importance. He does not want this experience to be used theologically, or to be seen in the light of the experience of others. It must not be used to argue that such experiences can only happen outside the body, but nor must it be used to declare that a man cannot operate apart from his body. It must not be used to suggest that the body is somehow evil in itself. It must not be compared with the ascension of Jesus, or the taking up of Elijah.
But nor must it be interpreted as just some venture from the body, like Ezekiel’s, or as an experience of dying and then returning to his body as described by many. It was not that kind of experience at all. It just happened and he does not know how it happened. And, he says, it must be left there. It cannot be used to deny a bodily resurrection, or indeed to teach it. He does not want to liken it to any other experience. It was wholly mysterious, unlike those of his opponents which they could explain without difficulty.
‘The third heaven.’ Possibly to be seen as the result of his meditation on 1 Kings 8.27 where Solomon speaks of ‘heaven and the heaven of heavens’, and based on Biblical uses of the term ‘heavens’ for the skies which includes sun, moon and stars (part of creation - Genesis 1); for that which lies beyond the skies, where angels might be and God can be reached (1 Kings 8.13 and often); and for the private abode of God Himself, (he may have had in mind here the outer and inner sanctuary in the Temple, the latter limited to God in His unapproachable glory, with His attendant cherubim). And all this thought of vaguely in spacial terms, although not specifically stated to be so, without being too specific. To them it was the world which was the universe. All else was ‘outside’. What was outside it was what we would call another ‘dimension’. Even today most people find it difficult to think in solely philosophical terms of not here nor there, but ‘outside’ space (we have not even the ready language for it), and it was no different then.
But we must ever remember that ‘three’ conveyed the idea of completeness and totality. The ‘third’ heaven would thus sum up the perfection of Heaven. In other literature this expands to five, seven and ten heavens, but that is more speculative. Paul is not being speculative (‘I cannot tell’).
‘Paradise.’ The word comes from the Persian meaning an enclosed park, such as the gardens of the Persian kings. In LXX it was used to translate ‘the fruitful plain of Eden’. But in the Old Testament it never refers to anything outside this world. In the New Testament it was used by Jesus, if we interpret strictly, of the place to which men go after death and where He would be prior to His resurrection (Luke 23.43). It is probably in mind in Luke 16.19-31, the place of the righteous dead. But it is doubtful whether we are to so limit it. The idea is probably mainly that such people are with God. It is used in Jewish literature of where God is. In Revelation 2.7 it is the reward for overcomers, and there they will eat of the tree of life. In Revelation 21.1-5 this clearly has in mind our eternal dwellingplace in the glorious presence of God, depicted in terms of a more wonderful, ‘heavenly’ Eden of which God Himself is the light. Here in Paul it probably equates with the third Heaven, where God dwells in His indescribable glory.
‘And heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.’ Words which cannot be spoken, and which commentators have been trying to fathom ever since. The idea is probably that they were awe-inspiring and beyond man’s grasp and capability, so that if their ideas were conveyed man would be unable to bear the result. They are similar to His unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6.16). It is noteworthy that like Isaiah before him (Isaiah 6.1-4) he does not try to describe God. He is lost in the indescribable. He describes only ‘unutterable sayings’ (compare the ‘voice from the throne’ which issues in the end - Revelation 19.5), and that in terms of the unspeakable. All that is of God is too holy to be fathomed by man, or to be heard and seen.
What Paul is really saying is that he was caught up into the presence of God and for that brief time was caught up in such an indescribable heavenly experience in His presence that he could neither describe nor relate it, nor would want to, and that it would be blasphemy to make the attempt. He knew that what he had experienced was nothing to do with man while on this earth. But it had almost certainly affected the whole of his thinking from then on. It could hardly do otherwise. No longer for him the philosophical arguments about God, or the godly speculation. Even though he could not describe it, it affected all his thinking, all his doctrine and the whole of his ministry and life. And we must see such phrases as ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God’ (4.6) in that context. We are probably to see ‘is not lawful’ to mean not so much forbidden by God’s edict as forbidden by its very nature.
Let these pseudo-apostles with their constant speculation think on that. And let the Corinthians themselves recognise that they must choose between one who has met God in full intimacy, and cannot speak of it because of its awesomeness and its holiness, and those who claim to be aware of God through whatever method of obtaining such knowledge they used, and constantly speak of it. If they had really met God as they had said they would remember the words of Ecclesiastes 5.2, ‘Do not be rash with your mouth, and do not let your heart be hasty to utter anything before God, for God is in heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few.’ Such experience can only result in humility.
12.5 ‘On behalf of such a one will I glory: but on my own behalf I will not glory, save in my weaknesses.’
Yet he seeks no glory because of his experience. Let them consider the reality and glory certainly. But he does not want them to look at him and admire him. Let them rather look on his weaknesses and remember those, and that they arise precisely because of his experience. It is not him to whom they should look but the ineffable God. The marks of his Apostleship are to be seen more in the fact that he shares in the sufferings of Christ, than in the glory of revelations.
12.6 ‘For if I should desire to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I shall speak the truth: but I forbear, lest any man should account of me above that which he sees me to be, or hears from me.’
He could glory if he wanted to, and it would not be foolish, because he would speak the truth. And yet how foolish that would be. So he forbears. God has spent more time reminding him that he is but a mortal man, than He has anyone else. What a fool he would be to seek to impress people with his experience when in the present they can see nothing but this weak man with his fightings, and struggles, and disabilities. Let them see him and listen to him. And let them judge him by that, and by the fact that he fills up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1.24). Then let them see and listen again.
‘Above that which he sees me to be, or hears from me.’ The sight and voice of the glory of God are hidden from them, even forbidden to them, for what He has said is unspeakable. They must see and hear, either through the vision and revelations of the impostors (verse 1), or through the sight and words of Paul, who alone has experienced the sight and words of God. The treasures are in an earthen vessel that the glory may be of God (4.7).
12.7 ‘And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch.’
For God has gone out of His way to ensure that Paul was kept mindful of what he was. Because of the exceeding greatness of the revelations that He had given Paul, He also allowed him to be given something else so that he would not be over exalted, over proud, with thoughts above what he should have. And this was a thorn (or ‘stake’) in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet him. The fact that it was a messenger of Satan prevents us from thinking of God’s direct action. It was something, therefore, which God allowed, (and was therefore His gift), but not something that He Himself arranged for him.
What this thorn in the flesh, this messenger of Satan, was, he gives us no clue, only that God could have taken it away. It is doubtful therefore whether it was his appearance, unprepossessing though that seems to have been. The only description we have is of ‘a man small in stature, thin haired on the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining and nose somewhat hooked.’ His thorn in the flesh has been interpreted as either signifying some painful and debilitating or irritating illness (thorn in the flesh), or some constant antagonist, whether earthly or heavenly, who constantly followed him around and caused trouble (messenger of Satan), or in some way attacked him.
‘Thorn in the flesh’ seems to signify pain and irritation, and possibly worse, for he may have seen how a thorn in the flesh could result in death through tetanus. But that it was permanent is clear from the fact that it was not taken away. ‘An angel of Satan’ could be anything caused by Satan. Compare Job 1, and the whole of Job, where it included physical disasters, loss of property, a nagging wife, and thoughtless friends. Although as some have pointed out the term angellos is only elsewhere used by Paul of persons.
Consideration must be given to the fact that it may have been given to him immediately after the revelation. The verse can certainly be read in that way. We can compare how once Jacob had wrestled with God, he came away lame (Genesis 32.25), and how Zacharias was made dumb in the Temple even though only at the vision of an angel (Luke 1.20), although that was for unbelief. The kind of experience that Paul had had might well have left its effect in some way on his body or on his psyche.
Various suggestions have been made over a whole range of disabilities. Some have suggested physical disabilities such as: epilepsy (because he fell down on the Damascus Road), a speech impediment (poor of speech - 10.10; 11.6), malaria (‘weakness’, malaria was prevalent in some of the areas he visited), an ophthalmic malady (‘you would have given me your own eyes’ - Galatians 4.14-15; compare 6.11), leprosy, attacks of migraine, or irritable bowel syndrome, which in one of its many forms can be equally debilitating and strike suddenly, bringing pain in the body and continual pressure in the head while not necessarily affecting general health. Paul never, however, suggests sickness as being one of his trials in the lists of trials.
Others have suggested emotional disabilities such as hysteria, caused by some of his experiences, or periodic depressions, possibly resulting from the burden of the inability to reach his own people (Romans 9.2-3). The thorn and messenger of Satan could also refer to permanent persecution (1 Peter 5.8), troublesome people (11.13-15), spiritual snares and fleshly temptations. But all these could be seen as what he could normally expect. Perhaps Paul did find the single life difficult. The possibilities are endless, which is all to the good for it covers all problems that God’s people might suffer, and can be an encouragement to them.
The metaphors are not much more help. The Old Testament spoke of troublesome people as being a "barb in the eye" or a "thorn in the side" (Numbers 33.55; Joshua 23.13; Judges 2.3; Ezekiel 28.24), while in Paul’s days "a stake in the flesh" was a common figure of speech for excruciating physical pain. So Paul could be speaking metaphorically of the heretical teachers who constantly dogged his steps and hindered his ministry (compare the mention of weaknesses, injuries, necessary hardships, and persecutions in verse 10), or he might be thinking of any number of disabilities.
‘To buffet me (continually).’ And therefore to ‘treat me cruelly’ (compare 1 Corinthians 4.11). Paul found it a constant torture. Those who have suffered pain throughout their lives will understand his thoughts precisely.
‘That I should not be exalted overmuch.’ The experience of God he has described was an ever present danger as well as an ever present blessing. It would have been so easy for him to think that he was something special. The churches on the whole saw him as something special, and that too could be a danger to him. (We too mostly see him as something special). But it would have been a disaster if he had seen himself as something special. And there is nothing like pain that cannot be easily dealt with to prevent someone from seeing himself as something special. It soon brings someone back to their knees and reminds them that they are but human. But he seemingly learned the lesson continually through hard experience.
12.8 ‘Concerning this thing I besought the Lord three times, that it might depart from me.’
‘Three times’ may well mean ‘a number of times.’ Since the beginning when man first began to use numbers ‘three’ has meant more than just a number and regularly meant ‘many’ compared with a ‘few’ (which was represented by ‘two’ - 1 Kings 17.12). Thus he had begged the Lord more than a few times that it might be taken from him. It was not something that he found at all bearable. Note the term ‘the Lord’. This usually means Jesus Christ, and is one of the rare cases where prayer is said to be made to Him. The prayer was very personal, and it may be significant that it was said to the great Healer.
12.9 ‘And he has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you: for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may take up its abode on me.’
The reply that at some stage came to him from Christ, and is still effective (perfect tense), was not what he wanted. It was that the thorn would not be removed. Jesus Christ wanted him to remain weak, so that he might remain strong, triumphing over weakness, triumphing over the thorn and triumphing over the danger of self-exaltation. ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ His unmerited love, favour and compassion revealed in His personal ministering to Paul, with all the power at His disposal, would be sufficient to see him through it. It would be his sufficiency. And the reason too was given, so that he might be perfectly strengthened through the power of Christ, manifested even while he seemed weak.
So Paul came not only to accept his disability, but to glory in it along with his other weaknesses. If that was the price of having the power of Christ abiding on him, then it was a price worth facing up to. For enjoying the power of Christ, both in his own life, and in his work for others, meant more than all. His disability helped him to die daily so that the power of Christ might be manifested through his mortal flesh (4.10-11). This is true whether the ‘power of Christ’ means ‘Christ’s own power’, or the power which consists of Christ as ministered by God.
12.10 ‘Wherefore I take pleasure (‘gladly boast’) in weaknesses: in injuries (or ‘insults’), in necessary hardships, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake, for when I am weak, then am I strong.’
This placed here might suggest at first sight that the ‘thorn in the flesh’ covered all these seen as one whole, the burdens of his ministry. But it is more likely that the one enabled him to also face the many. He was hardly likely to expect God to remove all these. They were a part of the sufferings of Christ which he expected constantly. So they cannot be the specific thorn in the flesh. But the sufficiency that he received in respect the power of Christ abiding on him because of the thorn helped to maintain him in all his sufferings. For he had learned the secret that his weakness so threw him on God that he always emerged the stronger.
Paul again lists examples of the troubles that he has endured for Christ's sake. Three of the four appear in the earlier lists. All four are troubles that Paul faced on his missionary travels. The first one, hubris, has in mind wanton acts of violence. Paul uses it in 1 Thessalonians 2.2 of the “injury and insult” that he experienced at Philippi when he was publicly whipped and imprisoned without good reason (Acts 16.22-24; compare 14.5). Ananke (compare 6.4, “necessary hardships”) refers to the divine necessity which necessitates such adverse circumstances as calamity, torture and bodily pain. Diogmos is commonly used of tracking down a prey or an enemy and has in mind persecution (compare 4.9, “persecutions”). Paul may well here be thinking of how he was pursued from city to city by hostile Jews. Stenochoria (compare 6.4, “distresses, difficulties”) refers to finding oneself in a tight corner or in narrow straits, pressed in with no apparent way of escape.
‘For when I am weak, then am I strong.’ This is true for two reasons. Firstly because his weakness drives him back to God so that he remains totally dependent on His power, and secondly because the weakness itself renders him usable by the God who uses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. It is in his very weakness that the power of God can be most effective, that the power might be of God and not of him.
12.11-12 ‘I am become foolish, you compelled me; for I ought to have been commended of you. For in nothing was I behind the very highest ranking apostles, though I am nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works.’
Having bared his soul to them he now declares once again that all this boasting has been foolishness. He feels he has become foolish. But only because they had forced him to it. It was their fault. They should have been commending him because of what he was, as the chosen Apostle of Christ by the will of God, but they had not. Instead, as they had at the painful visit, they were failing to give him support. Yet who should know better than they that in nothing had he fallen short of the highest ranking Apostles, the Twelve. As much as any he had patiently wrought signs and wonders and mighty works among them.
Miracles were performed in virtually every city that Paul visited. In Paphos (Acts 13.6-12); in Iconium (14.3); in Lystra (14.8-10); in Philippi (16.16-18); in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1.5); in Corinth (1 Corinthians 2.4]; in Ephesus (Acts 19.11-12); in Troas (20.9-12); and in Malta (28.1-10). In fact, Paul in his letters says repeatedly that his preaching was not merely one of word but of "power and the Spirit" (see for example, Romans 15.19; 1 Corinthians 2.4; Galatians 3.5; 1 Thessalonians 1.5).
‘Though I am nothing.’ But he does not want them to think that he has turned to boasting again. Ei with the indicative denotes what is fact in someone's eyes. So Paul is saying that in the eyes of the world, and certainly of the pseudo-apostles and some of the Corinthians he counts for nothing, and he does not deny that they are right. It is not he who counts for anything, but God. The opposition has already alleged that he lacks formal letters of commendation, that his speaking amounts to nothing and that he is unimpressive in his person (3.1-3; 10.10).
Or it may reflect his own self-recognition. While he can say that he is not the least bit inferior to the other apostles in signs and wonders, he always attributes his success to the grace of God within him (1 Corinthians 15.10). In and of himself he is aware that the "least of the Apostles" and the "chief of sinners," because he had persecuted the church of God (1 Corinthians 15.9; 1 Timothy 1.15).
‘Signs and wonders and mighty works among them.’ An all-inclusive description covering every type of miracle.
12.13 ‘For what is there wherein you were made inferior to the rest of the churches, except it be that I myself was not a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong.’
Indeed the only Apostolic ‘sign’ that he did not work among them was that of making himself a burden to them, of imposing on them for hospitality over a long period. This he would not do. And that was the only thing that made them ‘inferior’ to other churches! What folly! Sarcastically he begs them to forgive him that wrong.
Alternately he may have realised that the Corinthians really were upset about the fact, having been stirred up by the pseudo-apostles. If so the request for forgiveness may be genuine, and not sarcastic. But what follows suggests that this is not so.
Having Completed His Exercise in ‘Foolishness’ Paul now Finalises His Position (12.14-21).
He begins by assuring them of his care for them and then penetratingly analyses what he fears is their own deteriorating situation in all this. For in the end his concern is not so much the false apostles as the effect their visit has had on the church themselves. That is what matters most to him. And he wants them to know that he is very fearful about what he will find, and will consequently have to do in reply. Let them be assured that there will be no strategic withdrawal this time. The false apostles will have to be dealt with, but even more the church itself will have to be sorted out, and he will not spare. So let them consider their own position and consider what they will do.
The very intensity of his words demonstrates how he sees the picture changed by the arrival and activity of the false apostles.
He Assures Them of His Care For Them (12.14-18).
He declares that he intends shortly to visit them for a third time. But when he does he will again not be a burden on them. (This suggests that he did not think that they were really upset about his not being a charge on them, or otherwise he would surely have accepted the hospitality, becoming all things to all men). For as their parent it is his responsibility to look out for them, not theirs to look out for him. So he will rather spend and be spent for them, for he loves them truly. Indeed neither he or his co-workers have at any stage sought to take advantage of them.
His first visit had been an eighteen-month stay that had seen the establishment of the Corinthian church (Acts 18.1-18). Then he had maintained himself by tent-making. His second visit had been a painful one for Paul. As we have seen earlier, while he was there, a leader in the congregation, supported by a number of its members, had publicly insulted him and challenged his authority, demanding proof that Christ was speaking through him (13.3). And the church had meanwhile sat by and had done nothing to support him. He had hurriedly left them then because he saw the possibility of a split in the church if he did not. That was when he had written his severe letter. Now he was coming in hope, for a third time, and this letter was in preparation.
12.14 Behold, this is the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be a burden to you. For I seek not yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.’
So he is now ready to pay them their third visit. But he will still not call on them for hospitality. They have enough to do in providing it for the pseudo-apostles. For he is not coming seeking anything from them. He seeks only them. Their good, and their advantage. For because he is their spiritual parent, it is they who should be looking to him, not he to them. That is the natural way of things between children and parents. The parents provide for the children out of love, and look for love and obedience in return.
‘To lay up.’ The idea can be used of amassing a fund. But Paul is more probably thinking of many ways whereby he can benefit the Corinthians, making provision for them spiritually in every way.
12.15 ‘And I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more abundantly, am I loved the less?’
And he is happy that it should be so. He is delighted to spend himself, until he is absolutely spent, for them. (The play on words is also there in the Greek). He will hold nothing back. He will gladly give of himself, of his time, of his energy, of his affection, of his reputation and, if need be, of his health. He loves them abundantly. Will they then respond to his abundant love with something less?
12.16 ‘But be it so, I did not myself burden you, but, being crafty, I caught you with guile.’
And yet if it is to be so, it must be so. For he is aware of what they are saying about him, of the accusations being made against him. They are saying that no, he did not burden them with a requirement for hospitality, but rather he was crafty and caught them with guile. He arranged the big collection which in due course he would come to collect. The implication is that they then expected him to take a percentage for himself. So would he by that means obtain by guile what he was pretending that he would not accept from them. And the benefit that he would thus obtain would be far more. This was no doubt what the pseudo-apostles were pointing out to them. (They probably could not conceive of anyone who actually was willing to evangelise without receiving any material benefit).
Others interpret it as a straight statement, a statement that, because of his love for them, instead of being a burden to them he had used all his guile to win them to Christ, that like a fisherman he had offered them bait and reeled them in, using ‘guile’ to win them to Christ, with the sole aim that they should receive from him that wonderful benefit without cost.
Well, whichever view they had about him, let them consider the facts.
12.17 ‘Did I take advantage of you by any one of them whom I have sent to you?’
Did any of the people whom he sent take advantage of them? Did they come away with any money which would benefit Paul? Let them think about it and weigh up the facts.
12.18 ‘I exhorted Titus, and I sent the brother with him. Did Titus take any advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?’
It was he who encouraged Titus to come with the other brother. Did he take advantage of them then? Did he not just behave like Paul. Did they both not walk in the same spirit? Were their footprints not going in the same direction?
To ‘walk in the same Spirit’ may indicate that both did what they did in response to the Holy Spirit. They were of one heart and mind because of His inworking. Unlike the pseudo-apostles whose view of the Spirit was that He would benefit them, not call on them for self-sacrifice. Alternately we may see it as ‘spirit’ with a small ‘s’ indicating that their mindset was the same because of what was in their hearts, paralleling ‘walk in the same steps’. They walked together because they were both agreed in their hearts.
His Final Wake Up Call (12.19-21)
12.19 ‘You think all this time that we are excusing ourselves to you. In the sight of God speak we in Christ. But all things, beloved, are for your edifying.’
Do they really think that all this time he is only making excuses? Never. For let them consider before Whose eyes they speak. They speak in the sight of God. And they also speak ‘in Christ’. And as he has declared before, in them is ‘yes’ and ‘Amen’ (1.17-24). So there is no way in which, standing before God and dwelling in Christ, he can be trying to deceive them. No, they are beloved by him and by Titus, and their sole purpose is their building up and edifying. All that they do is to that end. And what is the consequence of their concern to build them up and edify them? It is that they must deal in depth with their sins which have again sprouted up.
12.20-21 ‘For I fear, lest by any means, when I come, I should find you not such as I would, and should myself be found of you such as you would not; lest by any means there should be strife, jealousy, wraths, machinations, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, disorderly behaviour; lest again in my coming my God should humble me before you, and I should mourn for many of them that have sinned heretofore, and repented not of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed.’
He now summarises why he has previously spoken so strongly. It is because he is afraid of what he will find is true of them when he comes. (The use of subjunctives leaves the question open. It is a probability but not a certainty). He is afraid that what he discovers then will but add to his sufferings, will result in another humbling, another heavy burden added to his ‘care for all the churches’.
This sudden bombardment at the end of these chapters, and bombardment it is, is intended to make the whole church sit up and think, and it is something that he has been preparing for. As they have listened to this last part of his letter being read they will have, as it were, largely been the audience considering his arguments against the false apostles. But now he wants them to know that his battle will not only be with the false teachers (10.2), but with them, for it is not so much the false teachers that he is concerned about as the Corinthians themselves. It is they who are his great concern. Let them then consider themselves (13.5). For he is afraid of what he will find when he looks at them, that he will find that they are still torn apart in dissension and strife, and riddled with immorality in spite of all his past efforts.
So he challenges them with the fact that his fear is very much that when he comes he will not find them as he would like to find them, as those over whom he can rejoice. But rather that he will find that they have not repented and put away their sins about which he had already warned them (in 1 Corinthians and in the severe letter).
Then he outlines those sins. They are the sins of infighting, of jealousy and anger towards each other as they support different sections and views, of continual bursts of antagonism towards one another (plural form), of intrigue and plotting, of party spirit and rivalry, of rumour spreading and pernicious talk, of pride and boasting and puffing out of chests, of disorderly behaviour and anarchy in the assembly, and indeed of all uncleanness, and especially those particular sins of being unequally yoked with idolatrous associations, together with their sins of sexual misbehaviour which partly result from this. (The news about all this had probably come from those who had warned him of the arrival of the false apostles).
And if all this is true let them be assured of one thing, that they also will not find him as they would like to find him. Indeed because of their behaviour, they will find him coming in anger, rather than in meekness and love. Let them then recognise that they are not sheep on the sidelines considering a case. They, and what they are, is in the end the central issue.
And his further fear is then that his forceful words will only result in further strife, in further jealousy, in further expressions of wrath, this time both ways, in an intensifying of their splitting up into factions, in continual backbiting, in more whisperings behind the hand, in further swellings of the chest through pride, and in further disorderly behaviour. Yet he knows that, unless they right themselves, it will have to be.
For he is aware that when he comes, if he does face a church in complete disarray, he will have to tackle it head on with all guns blazing. The time for gentleness and meekness will be past. And he does not like the thought of the consequences. For the result can only be that he will once again arrive to be insulted and humiliated as he was before, and thus be humbled by God as it will be a testimony to his failure. (He still feels that this is something that many would wish to avoid). And to be greatly grieved as he sees among them those who have committed uncleanness, fornication and lasciviousness, and have not repented. He is thus making quite clear that he does not view the prospect of his visit with any pleasure, accompanied as it will be by humiliation and grief, and is giving them the opportunity to do something about it before it is too late.
And the implication is (already stated in verse 20) that, unless they do so, he is going to have to himself do something about it, and when he does, it will be a something which will not be very pleasant. And he is fearful of what the effect might be on the church and its future.
So after all that he has been writing he makes clear that in the final analysis it is their state that he is still concerned about, and what he might find, and more so now as a result of the presence of the false apostles. This sudden list of sins may seem to come unexpectedly, but it actually brings them back to the main purpose of his letter, the reconciling of the whole church, although expressed more strongly now because of the new situation which makes him doubtful of their genuine continued repentance. It is an attack at the very root of their failures. It brings out his renewed fears of those old failures which had hoped had been dealt with but have again apparently sprouted up as a result of the effects of the pseudo-apostles on them. He fears that they will have aroused all the old tensions which he had hoped had been mainly settled as a result of 1 Corinthians, his forceful letter and Titus’ visit. He therefore wants them to consider their ways and to recognise that he has no illusions about what their true state might well be, unless they will now take heed to what he has written. It is in fact up to them to decide what his attitude will be when he comes.
This forceful statement accords well with the earlier suggestion that, while earlier writing his letter rejoicing in their seeming reformation, and in the good spirit of unity and wellbeing that Titus had described as now being among them, he had suddenly received news of the working among them of men who had caused all the old problems to resurface, so that he had now not only felt it necessary not only to repudiate those men and compare himself with them in strongest terms, but also to appeal to the Corinthians in the strongest terms not to allow the worst to happen to them. The letter of rejoicing has become a desperate plea for them not to be so foolish as to revert to what they had been, and worse, and a warning of what it will do to their relationship with him. Thus does he bear the cares of this particular church. This is Apostolic authority at its strongest.
Chapter 13 Final Warning and Closing Words.
Paul finishes the letter with a promise shortly to be with them for a third time and with a final challenge. He warns them that if their behaviour is as he fears he will not spare them when he comes. This third visit will witness to their true situation. They have sought a proof that Christ, the One Whom they see as powerful within them, is speaking through him. That is well and good. So let them also consider themselves. Are they also seeking to test the genuineness of their own faith? Let them consider whether Jesus Christ truly is within them, with all that that involves, for if He is not they are on the way to rejection. They are reprobate, failing the test. But he trusts that they will prove not to be so and that their final conclusion will be that he is not reprobate. That Christ is truly in him. And that therefore they will repent. And with that challenge he says his final farewells.
13.1 ‘This is the third time I am coming to you. “At the mouth of two witnesses or three shall every word established”.’
He was now coming on his third visit. The first visit was when he founded the church. It had been a time of joy, of sowing and reaping, of love between the brethren and sisterhood, amidst much outside opposition. It had given all the promise of a solid future. It had been a witness to their credit. The second had been short and brief, a painful visit, one which had caused him much hurt, and which he had cut short in order to prevent breaking up the church. It stood as a witness against them. Now it will be his third visit and he asks which type of visit this is to be, is it to be one of joy or one of sorrow?
‘At the mouth of two witnesses or three shall every word established.’ This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 19.15, and refers to the evidence required in a public court in order to find guilty or not guilty. He wants them to see his coming visit as the final witness in their trial. For in view of the mention of a ‘third’ visit the reference must surely have some connection with that. The second visit had not established their position, it had left all in disarray. The witness was divided. It had left them open to a verdict of ‘guilty’. He wants this third visit to establish the word among them, to establish the truth about himself and about their response. His longing is that it might find them ‘not guilty’.
Alternately he may be saying that he is bringing witnesses with him, men from Macedonia, who will be witnesses to the true position. He will let them be the judges of the situation. But this seems less likely.
13.2 ‘I have said before, and I do say before, as when I was present the second time, so now, being absent, to them that have sinned in the past up to now, and to all the rest, that, if I come again, I will not spare.’
Here two witnesses are called on, the past painful visit and the present letter written while absent from them. They are both a warning of what he will do when he comes in view of the continued sinfulness of all of them, not just those who were clearly wrong in the past, but to all, because in one way or another all have sinned. And what he will do is that he ‘will not spare’. There will be no toning down of his intentions.
‘I have said before.’ That is, he has already said it before his coming again, when he was present the second time on the painful visit. ‘And I do say before.’ I am also now saying it before my coming visit in this letter, which I write while absent. Thus there are two witnesses to what he intends to do, to not spare them when he comes.
‘To them that have sinned in the past up to now, and to all the rest.’ His words are spoken to all, both those who have previously sinned and continue to do so, and to all the others as well. For he does not want any to feel that because they had escaped censure previously they would not be involved. In the end almost the whole church was involved, whether by direct sin or by neglect.
13.3-4 ‘Seeing that you seek a proof of Christ that speaks in me; who to you-ward is not weak, but is powerful in you, for he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives through the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him through the power of God toward you.’
His firm and severe attitude will be because they seek a proof that Christ is speaking in him. So he will follow their criterion. He will come powerfully, and not in humility and meekness as he had before. They claim that Christ is not weak towards them but is powerful in them. That is their justification for their attitude. And in a sense, as long as they are His, it is true, for although He was crucified in weakness (let them note that), yet He lives through the power of God. But they fail to see that the One Who reveals His power within men does so through ‘crucifying’ them. It is by dying with Him continually that they experience His power. (Which is why he will now query whether Christ really is in them - verse 5).
Well, they should consider that Paul is ‘in Him’ and that is why he has been like Christ, not only through outward manifestations but in every way. In Him he has, like Jesus Christ, been meek and lowly and has suffered. And through that God’s power has been revealed, as it was through the cross, as many have responded to God’s saving power. But now, contrary to his usual attitude, he will ‘live with Him through the power of God’ towards them. They will be made to recognise that Christ is with him in the power of God by how he is among them. If they reject lowliness and meekness they will experience the power they desire to see, the very power of God manifested, but in judgment. (This contrast is needed, although some see ‘towards you’ as meaning ‘in your service’. But the question must be whether this would answer the proof that they are seeking, and fit in with the connection with ‘I will not spare’).
What the Corinthians in their folly constantly ignored was the weakness of Christ, the ‘sufferings of Christ’ through which His work went forward and will go forward, as Paul has constantly demonstrated throughout the letter (1.5 and often). It is through that that His power is most effectively revealed and effected. It is the ‘word of the cross’ that is the true power of God, it is Jesus Christ as the crucified One Who must be proclaimed (1 Corinthians 1.18; 2.2). They rather boast in powerful manifestations, concentrating only on His power in the resurrection, a kind of spiritual infusion. They refuse to see that God works powerfully through weakness, and that that is how His work is accomplished in us all, through our dying with Christ that we might live with Him. (How we are all prone to overlook this). Well if that is how they want it they shall have it, they will see the power of God at work.
We do not know exactly what Paul has in mind. It would suggest that like Peter before him (Acts 5.1-11) he is aware that God will act in judgment at his word. Possibly he also bears in mind 1 Corinthians 11.30 and has the confidence that God will act in the same way towards those who bring judgment on themselves by their behaviour towards His chosen Apostle. For if the whole church is against him internal church discipline would not work. (Although we would probably be right to assume that a core is still with him, including some of the leadership). What they will need is to see God’s active judgment directed at them. They want to know whether he brings the word of Christ? Well, if they do not repent and become different, they soon will. And it will be their own fault because it is they who have demanded it.
13.5 ‘Try your own selves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know you not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed you are reprobate (failing the test).’
But he does not want to have to act as depicted in verse 4 so he pleads with them to consider themselves. Let them test themselves as to whether they are in the true faith. Let them examine whether Christ is truly within them, is in their very selves, (not just said to be manifested among them). Are they new creatures in Christ? (5.17) Are they experiencing His weakness as well as His power? Are they dying as well as living? (4.10-11). For unless they are ‘reprobate (tested and rejected) this will be true. They will be experiencing His weakness as well as His power, and will then recognise that the same is true in Paul.
They have challenged him as to whether Christ speaks in him. Well let them also challenge themselves as to whether Christ is truly at work in them. When Christ came how did He walk among men. Was it in weakness or in power? (It was, of course, in both, as with Paul). Was He humble and lowly and open to persecution and hardship? Or did He stride the world like an impregnable Colossus as Satan had suggested to Him? Was His power not manifested in weakness? Was His saving work not accomplished through weakness? Did they not first receive Him as the crucified One (1 Corinthians 2.2). That is how the power of God worked, and does work. (Had it been written he could have pointed them to Philippians 2.5-11). And that is how it will continue to work. So all must constantly come to Christ’s power through His cross (Galatians 2.20). If they do not experience the cross daily, they can know nothing of His power (4.11). (Woe betide the church that has the manifested power but not the manifested cross). Let them then see that this is precisely what is true of Paul. That is his proof that Christ speaks in him.
13.6 ‘But I hope that you will know that we are not reprobate (failing the test).’
And his hope is that as they do this they will come to recognise that Paul and his fellow-workers are not reprobate, not God-rejected, because they will recognise in them both the manifestation of Christ’s weakness, (through their sufferings) and of His power (through their effectiveness). Thus will they be saved from what God might do among them as he reveals His power in judgment.
13.7 ‘Now we pray to God that you do no evil, not that we may appear approved, but that you may do that which is honourable, and that we be as reprobate.’
So on the assumption of their new recognition of his acceptability with God, as one who is not disapproved, he points out that he is praying for them from now on to ‘do no evil’. He desires that they will assert their acceptance of his authority and will refrain from all the things of which he has accused them in 12.20-21. That they will from now on live righteous lives. He wants them to be approved. And he stresses that this is not in order that he might be approved by God, or by men who see how effective his rebukes have been, but in order that they might do what is honourable, even though, because they do it in response to his letter, it might indicate that he himself has failed the test, because it is not seen as his doing. His thoughts are not for himself but for their final good. He wants no credit for himself, only that they might begin to live new lives because they recognise that his authority is from God.
13.8 ‘For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.’
This is because he is incapable of doing anything which is against the truth, because he is totally for the truth. What matters to him is the truth, both in doctrine and in life. It is only the truth and its consequences that are important, not his own reputation. His whole life is given to the expression and living out of the truth (see 11.10).
13.9 ‘For we rejoice, when we are weak, and you are strong. This we also pray for, even your perfecting.’
For his rejoicing is not in what he is or in how he is seen, for if his weakness results in their strength he is satisfied. What concerns him is their being made strong. This too is what he prays for, their restoration and being made fit, going on to their being made perfect. In this is seen the total selflessnesss of Paul’s ministry. In this too he is like his Master, and an example for us all.
13.10 ‘For this cause I write these things while absent, that I may not when present deal sharply, according to the authority which the Lord gave me for building up, and not for casting down.’
The verse connects with 10.8 suggesting that ‘these things’ refers to chapters 10-13. He has written ‘these things’ while absent from them for one purpose, so that he might avoid having the necessity of dealing sharply with them when he arrives. For his main authority and power in the Spirit which makes him ‘mighty through God’ (10.4) has been given to him primarily for building up and not casting down. For even though he will do it if necessary, he has no desire to cast down. His aim is positive. Yet let them not doubt that if necessary he will cast down, although even that will have a right aim behind it, their final repentance. So they are left with this final choice. Do they wish to be built up or cast down?
13.11 ‘Finally, brethren, rejoice (‘farewell’). Be perfected; be comforted; be of the same mind; live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.’
With this thought he moves on to his farewells. He still sees them as ‘brothers and sisters’ (brethren), and bids them ‘rejoice’ (while literally saying ‘rejoice’ some translate as farewell, seeing it as possibly being a little like our ‘cheers’, i.e. ‘be of good cheer’). His main thought is that they might be joyfully responsive. He then exhorts them to grow towards full maturity, towards perfection, to enjoy God’s encouragement and comfort, to be like-minded and in unity, and to live at peace. Thus will they ‘do no evil’ (verse 7), and reverse the trends that he fears have arisen among them (12.20). if they ‘do no evil’ all his disagreements with the church will cease, for it their evils that he is concerned about. The evil of rejecting his Apostleship, the evil of all the sins of which he has had to accuse them. Then the God of love and peace will be with them. For how can they know such a God if they do not live in love and peace?
Remarkably this is the only New Testament reference to ‘the God of love’, while ‘the God of peace’ is more common. It suggests that Paul is using the phrase here specifically in order to encourage love among them, the love that is so lacking (see 1 Corinthians 13), love that also results in peace.
13.12-13 ‘Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the saints salute you.’
That they salute with a ‘holy kiss’ (and thus not sexually oriented) occurs regularly (see Romans 16.16; 1 Corinthians 16.20; 1 Thessalonians 5.26; 1 Peter 5.14). It might be on the cheek, forehead, or regularly on the hand. Its purpose was as a kiss sealing true spiritual love and friendship, and marking them off as God’s, for he then speaks of ‘all the saints’ saluting them as well. It is thus a symbol of the whole unity of God’s people. They are to see themselves as one with all God’s people (even if ‘all the saints’ means all in Macedonia).
13.14 ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.’
The letter comes to an end with this fullest of ascriptions, not paralleled in full elsewhere. As elsewhere in the Corinthian letters Paul brings together the three members of the Godhead (1.18-22; 1 Corinthians 6.11; 12.5-7). It is suggestive of the fact that this is deliberate in view of their divided state. Paul seek the overall activity of the Godhead in working among the Corinthians. It is not that Paul thinks that this will be more effective, but that he hopes that it will more fully impress the Corinthians.
We note that ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ comes first. This is not because of priority but because He is the personal Saviour. The whole of the letter from the beginning has concerned salvation and deliverance in Christ (1.5-6, 10; 2.14-16; 4.11; 5.14-21; 10.5; 11.2; 13.5). For the titles and their order contrast 1.2 and see on that verse for the significance of all three titles of Christ. Thus his concern is that the saving, unmerited, active love of Christ be always with the Corinthians, bringing about their true salvation. This will necessarily produce grace within their own hearts.
‘The love of God’, coming from the God of love (verse 11). As John puts it, ‘we love because He first loved us’ (1 John 4.19). Thus does Paul desire that God’s active love be revealed towards them, resulting in their themselves being infused with it.
‘And the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Spirit.’ In line with the previous two phrases this would primarily mean that he wishes the Holy Spirit’s ‘sharing in common’ with Christians to be with them, as He comes to them as their Helper and Encourager, that is that they might know His active work in them in true oneness with Him, bringing about love, spiritual awareness, and unity among them as they are His one Temple (6.16).
But as with the other phrases there is probably the twofold meaning so that we can also see it as referring the unity between believers that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit brings about.
We will close with the question that must affect us all. What did happen when Paul arrived in Corinth? We can never, of course, be sure but there are grounds for thinking that it was not too stressful.
For example Paul wrote Romans during his three months stay in Corinth (Acts 20.2-3, 56-57 AD), and in it there is no indication that there were problems in Corinth that he could not cope with. Moreover he did proceed with his plans to evangelise unreached areas, which he would surely not have done if the Corinthian church still required his in depth attention (compare 10.14-16).
Paul also wrote to the Romans that the Corinthians “were pleased” to complete their collection for the Jerusalem saints (Romans 15.26-27). And finally the Corinthian church's preservation of 2 Corinthians argues may argue for this church's acquiescence to Paul's admonitions and warnings. It would hardly have been preserved by the false teachers.
These are not certainties, for there could be other explanations. He may have kept to himself the struggles he was having, although that is not like Paul elsewhere. His further outreach might have resulted from his despairing of Corinth, but then we might have expected him to mention this in other letters, and ask for prayer for the loyal members who were suffering adversity. His reference to the Corinthian contribution is a fairly strong evidence, for he had no need to mention it if it had been done by them separately from him. But it is always possible that Paul was making the best of a bad job. And the preserving of his letter may have been by a loyal member of a disloyal church.
It is rather the fact that there is no hint anywhere of catastrophe at Corinth that can give us the most hope, but that the Corinthian church continued to be difficult, probably mainly arising from the background and environment of its members, comes out in that later in the century Clement of Rome could write of their quarrelsome behaviour. They had a reputation for dissension.
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