Comfort / Encouragement from Second Corinthians
(2 Corinthians 1:1-2) - Greetings to the church
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4) - The God of all Comfort
(2 Corinthians 1:5-7) - Sharers in Sufferings and Comfort
(2 Corinthians 1:8-10) - Learning through Suffering
(2 Corinthians 1:10-11) - Hope and Prayers
(2 Corinthians 1:12) - Paul's Beginning Defense
(2 Corinthians 1:13-17) - Paul - An Open Book
(2 Corinthians 1:17-19) - Vacillation of Purpose?
(2 Corinthians 1:20-21) - Amen to the Glory of God
(2 Corinthians 1:21-22) - What God Does
(2 Corinthians 1:23-24; 2:1) - To Spare You
(2 Corinthians 2:2-4) - Anguish of Heart
(2 Corinthians 2:5-7) - Accepting the Repentant
(2 Corinthians 2:8-11) - Love and Forgiveness
(2 Corinthians 2:11-14) - No Rest for Paul's Spirit
(2 Corinthians 2:14-16) - Which Aroma Will it Be?
(2 Corinthians 2:17) - Peddling the Word?
(2 Corinthians 3:1-3) - Letter of Commendation
(2 Corinthians 3:3-4) - Written by the Spirit
(2 Corinthians 3:5-6) - Servants of the New Covenant
(2 Corinthians 3:7-11) - Letter Kills - Spirit Gives Life
(2 Corinthians 3:11-13) - Reason for Boldness?
(2 Corinthians 3:13-16) - What is Fading Away
(2 Corinthians 3:17-18) - With Unveiled Face
(2 Corinthians 3:18) - From Glory to Glory
(2 Corinthians 4:1-2) - This Mystery of the new covenant
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4) - What the god of this world does
(2 Corinthians 4:4-6) - Glory in the face of Christ
(2 Corinthians 4:6) - Physical Creation to the New Creation
(2 Corinthians 4:7) - Treasure in Chipped Pottery
(2 Corinthians 4:8-10) - Power to Overcome
(2 Corinthians 4:10-11) - Life of Jesus Manifested
(2 Corinthians 4:12-15) - Bringing Others to Life
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18) - Consciousness in the Inner Man
(2 Corinthians 5:1-5) - This Old House
(2 Corinthians 5:6-8) - Of Good Courage
(2 Corinthians 5:9-10) - Right Ambition
(2 Corinthians 5:11-12) - Persuading Men
(2 Corinthians 5:13-15) - Crazy for Christ?
(2 Corinthians 5:16-17) - Basis for the New Creation
(2 Corinthians 5:16-17) - Power of the New Creation
(2 Corinthians 5:18-21) - Comments about Reconciliation
(2 Corinthians 5:20-21) - Ambassadors for Christ
(2 Corinthians 6:1-2) - Begging Extended to Urging
(2 Corinthians 6:3-4) - What it Takes
(2 Corinthians 6:5-6) - The List Goes On
(2 Corinthians 6:7-9) - And the List Goes On
(2 Corinthians 6:9-10) - Finishing with a Crescendo
(2 Corinthians 6:11-13) - Openness to the Corinthians
(2 Corinthians 6:14-16) - Need for Serious Separation
(2 Corinthians 6:16-18) - We are the Temple of God
(2 Corinthians 7:1) - Perfecting Holiness
(2 Corinthians 7:2-4) - Confidence in The Brethren
(2 Corinthians 7:5-7) - Returning to Previous Concern
(2 Corinthians 7:7-9) - Getting To Repentance
(2 Corinthians 7:10) - Changing the way of thinking
(2 Corinthians 7:11-13) - Fruit of Repentance
(2 Corinthians 7:13-16) - Increased Confidence
(2 Corinthians 8:1-5) - Special Offering
(2 Corinthians 8:6-7) - Abound in this Gracious Work
(2 Corinthians 8:8-11) - Poverty and Riches
(2 Corinthians 8:12-15) - By Way of Equality
(2 Corinthians 8:16-19; 22-23) - Earnestness and Honesty
(2 Corinthians 8:19-21; 24) - Honorable in the Sight of All
(2 Corinthians 9:1-5) - Boasting about the Gift
(2 Corinthians 9:5-7) - Sowing and Reaping
(2 Corinthians 9:8-9) - Abundance for Every Good Deed
(2 Corinthians 9:10-12) - God's Multiplier
(2 Corinthians 9:13-15) - Proof of Ministry
(2 Corinthians 10:1-2) - Beginning of Paul's Defense
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5) - Divinely Powerful Weapons
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5) - Destroying Speculations
(2 Corinthians 10:06) - Taking Every Thought Captive
(2 Corinthians 10:06-07) - Punishing Disobedience
(2 Corinthians 10:08-11) - What You See Is What You Get
(2 Corinthians 10:12-14,18) - Actions Speak Louder Than Words
(2 Corinthians 10:14-17) - Boasting in the Lord
(2 Corinthians 11:1-3) - Jealous with a Godly Jealousy
(2 Corinthians 11:4) - Preaching Another Jesus
(2 Corinthians 11:5-8) - Not an Inferior Apostleship
(2 Corinthians 11:7-12) - Paul's Handling of Finances
(2 Corinthians 11:13-15) - Deceitful Workers
(2 Corinthians 11:16-21) - Bearing with Paul
(2 Corinthians 11:21-23) - Paul's Trials
(2 Corinthians 11:24-29) - More of Paul's Tribulations
(2 Corinthians 11:30-12:1) - Further Appeal and Recollection
(2 Corinthians 11:30-12:1) - Further Appeal and Recollection
(2 Corinthians 12:2-5) - Caught up to Paradise?
(2 Corinthians 12:6-9) - The Thorn in the Flesh
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10) - Power is Perfected in Weakness
(2 Corinthians 12:11-12) - I Should Have Been Commended
(2 Corinthians 12:13-15) - Reaffirming His Love
(2 Corinthians 12:16-19) - Some Upbuilding
(2 Corinthians 12:20-21) - “I Am Afraid”
(2 Corinthians 13:01-03) - Confirming Every Fact
(2 Corinthians 13:04) - Weakness vs. Power
(2 Corinthians 13:05-06) - Run This Test!
(2 Corinthians 13:07-10) - For the Truth
(2 Corinthians 13:11-13) - Coming to a Close
(2 Corinthians 13:14) - Weakness vs. Power - Part 2
Greetings to the Church
The Christian life is often compared to a long race or a challenging journey. As Jesus discussed His second coming, He spoke of a slave that did not have the inner strength to stay faithful until his lord arrived. "If that evil slave says in his heart, My master is not coming for a long time, and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know" (Matthew 24:48-50). With that illustration as a base, He went on to tell the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were foolish and five of whom were wise enough to prepare for a long wait for the bridegroom's return. The exhortation, of course, is for the Christian to be prepared for whatever challenges come in his life, and to be faithful until his physical death or until the Lord's return. Early on, this is one of the themes of the book of second Corinthians.
- Paul's apostleship - In this letter, Paul establishes his apostleship right up front with the brethren in Corinth. Although he had started the congregation, people had come in after he left for Ephesus and challenged his apostleship and the doctrines he preached. Hence, it was necessary for him in this epistle to re-establish that apostolic authority in their minds. He is not going to belabor that point early on, but is emphatic in his opening. "Paul," is his introduction, "an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia" (2 Corinthians 1:1). Note these words: an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. He was specifically called and commissioned by Jesus Himself, and had all the authority of an apostle. Furthermore, lest there be any doubt, that apostleship was conferred in accordance with the will of God! He is also including Timothy, his "son in the faith" and long time associate in his greeting to the congregation.
- The church - Paul is writing to "the church of God" in Corinth, as well as to the other brethren in the surrounding Roman province of Achaia. It is clear in the New Testament writings that Christians were organized in congregations, rather than simply being "free range" Christians, saints at large. While some resist, that is clearly the New Testament pattern for the church and the individual disciples of Christ. The reason for such organization is so that each follower of Jesus can be spiritually nourished and encouraged, as well as being put into useful service. As Paul explained to the church in Ephesus, among the functions of modern evangelists, pastors, and teachers is to equip "the saints for the work of service" (Ephesians 4:11). The "church," then, is this organization (not the building). Additionally, although Paul calls the congregation here "the church of God," that is more of a description of ownership rather than a specific name by which the congregation must be named. Congregations in the scripture were called "the church," "churches of Christ," "churches of God in Christ Jesus," as well as "the church of the first-born ones." That early Christians worked in close association together is evident in that the apostle addresses this epistle to the brethren throughout Achaia, as well as to those who specifically were designated "the church of God which is at Corinth."
To these brethren, the apostle gives a fairly standard greeting: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:2). These words are more than just a mumbled greeting; they are actually a prayer that God's magnificent grace and peace that passes understanding might be granted to each individual within the purview of this epistle.
Paul was tremendously concerned about the church in Corinth, and in this letter is doing his Holy Spirit-inspired best to keep this congregation on track and the saint’s salvation intact. Modern Saints would do well to heed the contents of this powerful and motivating epistle.
The God of all Comfort
So, who could use some encouragement? Saints in the first century, just as modern brethren, faced all kinds of challenges in their daily walk as they sought to serve the Lord in each of their congregations. They needed real encouragement, or as often translated, comfort. God, then, through the Holy Spirit and the apostle Paul - intensely interested in the spiritual success of these brethren - offered them this encouragement. This is not mere "hype," empty encouragement and false hope. This is the real comfort that comes from an all powerful God, the God who also knows how many hairs are on the head of each person (He knows the details of our lives, in other words), the God who understands and is able to give His saints the encouragement they seriously need.
- In all affliction – God allows Christians to suffer for a number of reasons, one of which is to eliminate the dross of character. "For a little while, if necessary," observed the apostle Peter, "you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is important to remember that what the Father is looking for is real faith, and that the testing goes on among Christians to find out who is for real and who is not. Those who have successfully gone through suffering in the flesh for the faith, as Peter put it, have "ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1-2). Hence Paul opens his address to the Corinthians with these words: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction ..." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God is indeed blessed when He finds those who will walk in the faith of Christ, who will continue to believe in His mercies and strength, who will continue to move forward with the gospel despite opposition and persecution; that makes Him very happy! As the God of mercies, God is willing to grant mercy to those who have such faith, willing not to count their trespasses against them in the day of judgment. And, as the God of all comfort, He is willing and able to provide whatever comfort is necessary, regardless of the severity of the affliction!
- Comfort – The word translated comfort has the same root as paracletos, the word for the Comforter or Helper, the Holy Spirit who has come to strengthen the saints in the inner man. The word picture, in the case of comfort, is that of someone coming along and putting his arm around the shoulder of the afflicted one, thus showing compassion and providing encouragement and consolation. When Paul speaks of "us" in the context of the opening of this second recorded letter to the Corinthians, he is speaking of himself and fellow workers such as Timothy. God, then, says he, "comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any afflictions with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." The apostle understood that the comfort he received from God was not to be kept to himself, but rather he was now to extend that same comfort to other suffering brethren.
Therefore, since the brethren often suffer intensely for the faith, it is good for them to know that the God whom they cannot see understands their suffering, and is indeed able to comfort and encourage them - if they will pay attention to what is written. God's mercies are great, and His comfort is great. May each one found in Christ Jesus participate in His mercies, and may each be strengthened through God's tremendous comfort!
Sharers in Sufferings and Comfort
God can supply abundance whenever and wherever He chooses to do so. The Almighty, according to His own word, makes the earth 'bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater" (Isaiah 55:10). This abundance of the earth is not the only abundance; the point to which God is pointing is the distribution of His word. "So shall My word be," said He, "which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). The abundant harvest of eternal souls is God's great purpose. But there are also some "abundances" which those who participate in the gospel share as well.
- Parallel but contrasting -Why shouldn't Christians share in the sufferings of Christ, at least to some degree? One manner in which the Father demonstrated that Christ was "for real" rather than some fake was through His sufferings. The only reason such suffering would be worthwhile for Him who descended from heaven would be if it were the only means by which lost souls could be rescued. Only through His suffering and dying could the world be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Christians, then, following in the footsteps of their Lord, are also asked to participate in sufferings in order to demonstrate to the world that their faith is real, and that the message proclaimed through them is true. "To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing" stated Peter (1 Peter 4:13). The saint can rejoice in suffering, because it is not all suffering. "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance," observes the apostle Paul, "so also our comfort is abundant through Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:5). No matter how great the suffering, the spiritual comforting "touch" of the One who is described as "love" is greater!
- For someone else's comfort and salvation - Jesus went through all that He went through for the sake of the salvation of mankind. The suffering, long term benefit to Him would be that millions would honor and worship Him, but there was no immediate return on the anguish He endured. Thus, saints such as the apostle Paul imitated Him, persecuted and martyred for the sake of others. "For if we are afflicted," avers the apostle, "it is for your comfort and salvation". (2 Corinthians 1:6). When someone suffers and overcomes successfully, it is of great encouragement to others who are similarly suffering, and they are comforted in the knowledge that they are not alone, that there is someone else who understands. Suffering is generally involved in some way in the process of getting the gospel to the lost; hence Paul's statement that his affliction, and that of his fellow proclaimers, is for the brethren's salvation.
- Effective enduring - Paul comes back again to the comfort and encouragement redounding to the brethren. "If we are afflicted," he says, it is for the comfort and salvation of the saints. "Or if," he appends, "we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer." The encouragement emanating from the comfort that the apostles received from the Holy Spirit really assisted the brethren in patiently enduring their challenges of discouragement and persecution coming their way. Such endurance, of course, is the difference between tremendous victory and devastating defeat.
The battle for the soul is intense, but Paul expressed his hopeful confidence in the eternity of the brethren. "Our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers in our sufferings, so you also are sharers in our comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:7). The principle is the same, whether it be Christ, whether it be Paul, or whether it be the saint of God: first the cross, then the crown; first the suffering, then the comfort or encouragement. May modern saints be spiritually geared up so that they may endure their suffering, and share their encouragement.
Learning through Suffering
What the Christian must remember is that the eternal Father is working an eternal plan. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways are higher than our ways. 'Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" is Paul's exclamation. "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33). One of the most unfathomable aspects of God's ways is how He uses suffering as a vehicle for His overall plan. In fact, one of the main queries of the atheist concerns how a "good" God could allow "bad" things like suffering to occur. (Side note: an atheist, if he is trying to be at all consistent in his reasoning processes, cannot admit that "bad" things happen, because the very concept of "good versus bad" requires an outside standard giver [God] to define what is good or bad!) But God uses suffering to forward His purpose, including the suffering of His Son, Jesus Christ.
- Christ learned obedience - The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews is one who brings to light the graphic suffering of Christ. "In the days of His flesh," begins the statement, "He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety" (Hebrews 5:7). Certainly the One whose "appearance was marred more than any man" (Isaiah 52:14), suffered with the highest intensity, and would cry out to the Father to bring Him safely through the pangs and separation of death, and deliver Him to the resurrection side. But it was more than that: "Although. He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). Even our Lord, during the days of His flesh, had to learn complete obedience, trusting in God through His suffering.
- Paul learned to trust - Luke, in his inspired record denoted as the book of Acts, did not see fit to record Paul's afflictions in Ephesus, capital of the Roman province of Asia. But in his second epistle to the Corinthian brethren, Paul’s willing to recall those for the encouragement of the brethren. "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren," is how he e arrests their attention, "of our affliction which came If the Christian can to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, learn to trust God beyond our strength, so that we despaired of life" . (2 Corinthians 1:8). For the apostle Paul - Mr. suffering, he can Positive-to make the statement that he despaired learn to trust in of life, underscores the intensity of this suffering. "Indeed," he says, "we had the sentence of death lesser things. within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9). This is the way the Lord teaches the lesson apparently; Paul was taken to the point of such anguish and such despair that the only thing left was to trust in God. Which was God's point!
- Deliverance - How the Father got Paul and his companions out of the situation is unknown to us. But He did, and the apostle lived to write this letter. God, affirmed Paul, "delivered us from so great a peril of death" (2 Corinthians 1:10). Furthermore, having learned his obedience from the things he suffered, the apostle was confident that, as long as was necessary, that the Almighty "will deliver us from death."
What lessons can the modern saint learn from this discourse? Certainly it is clear that suffering is something that God allows the saint to experience as part of his learning to be obedient to the Father in all things. In addition, through extreme suffering, the disciple of Christ learns to trust in God, to trust Him who raises the dead. If the individual Christian can learn to trust in the power of God to raise him from the dead, or to deliver him from what appears to be certain death, then the saint can trust God for all lesser things also. Hence it is written: "we are fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him' (Romans 8:17).
Hope and Prayers
The situation in Ephesus must have been beyond description. The words the apostle Paul uses to describe the conditions of him and his fellow preachers and teachers give us a glimpse of the incredible "affliction" that they endured, and these words were coming from a man who was no stranger to trials and persecutions. "Burdened excessively," he relates, "beyond our strength." "We despaired even of life," he superadds, and "we had the sentence of death within ourselves." He and those with him were pushed to the brink, to the edge of what those who still walk in a fleshly body can bear. In the process, even he learned to "trust in God, who raises the dead."
- Set our hope - Over and over the scripture uses the word hope in connection with the saint's ultimate resurrection from the dead. The apostle Peter stated that God "has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). When Paul wrote to the brethren in Rome, speaking of the resurrection of the dead (which he called in that section of scripture "the redemption of our body"), he used this terminology, "For in hope we have been saved" (Romans 8:23-24). And twice while on trial before Jewish authorities, he similarly expressed himself: "I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead," he challenged the Sanhedrin; and before Roman governor Felix he clarified his stance, affirming that he had "a hope in God, which these men [his accusers] cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 23:6; 24:15). Of those severe trials in Ephesus, then, he recalls for the benefit of the Corinthian Christians, that the God who raises the dead "delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope" (2 Corinthians 1:10). Certainly if the Almighty can give the saint real hope in His positive resurrection from the dead, then. He can deliver the disciple of Christ from lesser challenges, such as persecution, also.
- Future deliverances - Paul knew that as faithful saints long as the Lord needed him to stay alive and continue his work on earth, he would not be taken in physical death. Both Peter and Paul were informed that the hour of their "departures" was at hand, from that point on they knew their earthly sojourn was coming to an end. Until the arrival of that time, however, Paul expressed confidence that the One on whom he set his hope "will yet deliver us."
- Importance of prayers - The word of God also repeatedly stresses the importance of the prayers of the saints, although the results are often very intangible or hard to prove. In expressing his confidence that God would continue to deliver the apostle and his traveling companions from death in persecutions, he appends this salient comment, "you also joining in helping us through your prayers, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us through the prayers of many" (2 Corinthians 1:11). The author, it is important to note, is inspired by the Holy Spirit as he writes this letter. It is clear and encouraging to hear from the heavenly perspective that the prayers of the saints actually help those faithful proclaimers such as Paul to be delivered. God is thus motivating the saints to pray for deliverance for those persecuted and imprisoned, and for the appropriate thanksgivings to be offered as well.
In God's divine economy, He somehow pays attention to the prayers of faithful saints, and they have a positive impact on the deliverance of His "favored" preachers and teachers, as well as Saints imprisoned for their faith. He can, and will, grant deliverance until such time as He decides that it is time for the Christian to make his "departure" from the earthly realm. Then the "hope of the resurrection of the righteous" kicks in, and God's sure word never fails to accomplish its purpose!
Paul's Beginning Defense
The apostle Paul had significant enemies inside the congregation at Corinth. These enemies attacked him on a personal basis, ranging from castigating his personal appearance to challenging his apostleship. The purpose of such attacks was ultimately to destroy the doctrine Paul preached, and to hinder his authority to correct and discipline. | His enemies within the local body are unnamed, but some of them came from the ranks of those who wanted to meld the teachings of Christ with Greek philosophy. This, of course, would have catapulted the false teachers into positions of influence and authority. More than in any other epistle, the apostle deems it necessary to face these challenges, and, when necessary, defend his apostleship. Modern saints would do well to consider the nature of the challenges, and carefully to note the divine responses.
- The necessity of a good conscience - One of the things God grants the true Saint is a clean conscience. There is no fake way of salvation that will produce a clean conscience in an individual; a good conscience can only be received by those who obey the gospel of God from an honest heart. "Immersion now saves you," is Peter's affirmative, stating that immersion into Christ is the "appeal to God for a good conscience" (1 Peter 3:21). Hence, through the blood of Christ - shed on Calvary, sprinkled in glory - the individual's heart is sprinkled clean from an evil conscience when his body is washed (Hebrews 10:22). The redeemed, now possessing a clean conscience, must maintain it, as Paul instructed Timothy, telling him to keep "faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith" (1 Timothy 1:19).
- The testimony of Paul's conscience - When a Christian is suffering from a guilty conscience, he is vulnerable to attacks. Rather than handling the jabs from the adversary in a gracious, creative, and intelligent way, he is locked in to a system of defensiveness. This is generally immediately perceived by the opposition, and like a shark smelling blood, the enemy closes in for the kill. Paul, aware of this, and knowing that he has to fend off his opposition, has maintained a clean conscience, and is willing to put that on the line as he initiates his defense in Corinth. "For our proud confidence is this," is how he introduces his offensive thrust against enemies of the gospel in Corinth, "the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you" (2 Corinthians 1:12). Paul, clearly maintained a good conscience, following advice he was later to give Timothy, and was therefore unassailable and bold as a lion.
- Some characteristics - The apostle makes it clear, as he occasionally does, that his motives in preaching the gospel are pure. He stresses that he comported himself in "holiness"; this is major, for if his conduct were in any way unholy, then he would have had little effect with truth-seekers. His pure motive is expressed in that his work was done in "godly sincerity"; there was no pretense, and his upright character showed through. He also emphasizes that he did not operate on the basis of "fleshly wisdom," which is also a shot at his enemies. James noted that the fleshly wisdom - wisdom of the world - is "earthly, natural, demonic." And where such intelligent but twisted wisdom is, "there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:15-16). The apostle's conscience was clear, in that he knew he was not using fleshly wisdom to further his position, but operated in accordance with the wisdom of God, the first characteristic of which is "pure."
The apostle Paul is often insistent that he accomplished what he did only by the grace of God; he carried out his responsibilities, but he is always willing to acknowledge that the major work was the result of God's grace. The apostle's conscience is clean in regard to his conduct in his contact with the world in order to reach the lost; but he is especially confident in his interaction with the brethren, for herein he had closer and more frequent communication. Thus he is ready to deal with issues inside the congregation.
Paul - An Open Book
As an exponent of the gospel, part of Paul's work involved calling people to repentance. Outside the church, he would be exposed to being ridiculed, threatened, run out of town, or incarcerated. Inside the church, his life would put under microscopic examination, because even Saints - when they are feeling pressure to upgrade their performance - often try to find fault with the person who calling them upward. Hence, the details of elders, teachers', and preachers' lives can often undergo a level of scrutiny that others would not experience. The apostle lets the congregation in Corinth know he is ready for such probing, "Our proud confidence is this," he asserts, "the testimony of our conscience." He is open to all challenges.
- His writing - The apostle knows his conduct, his verbal speech, and his written communication are in honest agreement. In written form, he notes, "For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand" (2 Corinthians 1:13). There are no hidden meanings in his communication, no saying things that mean one thing to one part of his audience and something else to another, and no verbal obfuscation. His point is plain: "you can read and you can understand."
- Reason for proper pride - In the grace and sight of God, asserts the apostle, "we have conducted ourselves in the world" and in the church. Without cryptic conversation and without a hidden agenda, he preached to the unbelievers and taught the believers. His writing, he says, could thus be understood, "and," he labors to point out, "I hope you will understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus" (2 Corinthians 1:13-14). For Paul, the consciousness of the Day of Judgment is never far off. Hence he conducts himself honorably in the sight of the Lord, and knows that faithful brethren would therefore be proud of him and proud of having been acquainted with him when things become clear on that last day. But that same positive pride is reversed; Paul will be excited to have been associated with these faithful brethren when the sons of God are revealed at Jesus' return and the Day of Judgment is ushered in.
- Paul's confidence incoming to Corinth - Again, with Paul there is no hidden agenda and no game-playing. Hence, when he states that he fully intended to come to Corinth, he was not "messing with their minds" or falsely getting their hopes up. Referring back to "his proud confidence" that he always conducted himself in holiness and godly sincerity, he goes on to state, "And in this confidence I intended at first to come to you, that you might twice receive a blessing; that is, to pass your way into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and by you to be helped on my journey to Judea" (2 Corinthians 1:15-16). It is clear that he purposed in his heart to go through Corinth twice - once on his way north to Macedonia (wherein were Philippi and Thessalonica), and once on his way back south. The fact, then, that it did not happen as planned should not be used to castigate the apostle, as Paul anticipates that his enemies will so use those circumstances.
The language of the epistle here is important. One of the reasons for its importance is that it shows that this is a real letter, and not something made up by someone pretending to be an inspired author. Herein Paul is defending the legitimacy of his sincerity in pointing out in a very high level and spiritual way that his plans for being in Corinth did not work out. "Therefore," he points out to his potential critics, "I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I?" (2 Corinthians 1:17). And it also shows the clear difficulties of travel and communication that God allowed even His apostles to experience in the first century. This, of course, has been the condition of the world until extremely recent modern times. These records help us moderns, who can communicate nearly instantaneously with anyone in the world and who can travel anywhere on earth in two days, to have a glimpse of what it was like in not-so-ancient times!
Vacillation of Purpose?
One of the key ingredients in a productive and successful life is to make sure that goals and activities line up in a forward moving line. This, of course, maximizes use of time and produces the best results with the least expenditure of effort. However ... not all things go according to the intentions of the careful planner. "The mind of man plans his way," was the observation of the sage Solomon, but the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). James also issued a cautionary note, stating, "You ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that." " (James 4:15). Unforeseen circumstances change the plans, and each Christian has to build some flexibility in his life or he will find himself continually frustrated because his plans are not working out. Thus, the apostle Paul, planning on coming through Corinth on his way north to Macedonia, and then stopping in again on his way south, found it advisable to change his plan due to internal issues in Corinth. "I call God as witness to my soul," is how he presents his case to the brethren, "that to spare you I came no more to Corinth" (2 Corinthians 1:23). Paul's plans changed, but he did not want the brethren to think that he is operating in an arbitrary, "wishy-washy" manner.
- "Yes" and "No" at the same time? - The apostle is insistent that he operated openly, "in holiness and godly sincerity." He really intended that the congregation in Corinth be "twice blessed," in that he would pass through there going north, and then later going south and on to Judea. "Therefore," he queries, "I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I?" His enemies are certainly ready to pounce on a positive answer here. But he has another question, appealing to the consistency of his character over the years. "Or that which I purpose," he proposes, "do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be 'yes, yes' and 'no, no' at the same time?" (2 Corinthians 1:17). The track record of the apostle clearly was that he was a man of great determination and unvarying direction. Those who operate "according to the flesh" in this category tend to be those who change their minds for whimsical reasons, and cannot be trusted follow through with anything. Not Paul! "But as God is faithful," he emphasizes, "our word to you is not 'yes' and 'no’" (2 Corinthians 1:18).
- "Yes" in Christ - The apostle Paul was not operating according to the flesh but was clearly functioning according to the Spirit. "For those who are according to the flesh," is his teaching, "set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5). Hence, as one whose working was according to the Spirit, he continues his commentary to the Corinthian brethren, "For the Son of God, Christ Jesus," is his appeal to the spiritual side, "who was preached among you by us - by me and Silvanus and Timothy - was not ‘yes' and ‘no," but is ‘yes’ in Him" (2 Corinthians 1:19). This is a very, very interesting sentence: The Son of God is "yes" in Him. Jesus is the positive "force" of the universe, the very "Yes!" of God.
The apostle Paul thus is not vacillating in his interactions with the church at Corinth. The Jesus whom he serves, the Jesus whom he imitated, is all about 'yes." Hence his goal, in the sight of God, was to get to Corinth. The problem, in this case, was with the Corinthians. Paul's statement is worth re-emphasizing: "To spare you I came no more to Corinth." The "yes" that was in him was turned to "no" by the Corinthian Christians themselves. In this long explanation the apostle has undercut the criticism expected from entrenched enemies in the congregation at Corinth, and is prepared to continue to do battle over doctrinal and schismatic issues at work in that particular church.
Amen to the Glory of God
Jesus is the Creator; Jesus is the Savior. Righteous and true are His acts and judgments, and He is faithful to keep and carry out His word. "God is faithful," affirms Paul, and the result is that those who imitate Christ are faithful in their words as well. "Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no,’ " was the teaching of Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount, "and anything beyond these is of evil" (Matthew 5:37). Not only is the saint not to punctuate his words with epithets, but he is to make his "yes" be a "yes," and his "no" be a "no." God’s "no" is indeed a "no," but His emphasis is that He wants to say, "Yes!" The Jesus that was preached among the Corinthians by Paul and others is the One by whom all the faithful things of God come to the believers.
- The promises - The All Wise and caring God has many things for the Christian. Among others, He offers full release from sins, the indwelling Holy Spirit, a resurrection body, and eternal life and fellowship with Him. These, of course, come through Christ. "For as many as may be the promises of God," asserts Paul, "in Him they are ‘yes’ " (2 Corinthians 1:20). Because God in His love and mercy has offered these promises to the disciple of Christ, "we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him" (Ephesians 3:12). God is not trying to be stingy with what He awards His children; but He does want them to reach for them in ever increasing faith - faith as designed by the Bible.
- Our "Amen!" - Amen is a carry-over from Hebrew tradition into Christianity, and it has to do with truth and agreement. When Paul, for example, speaks of prayer in the congregation at Corinth (and of the necessity of those prayers being in a language understood by the congregants), he phrases it as a question: "If you bless in the spirit only [giving an inspired prayer in a foreign language], how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?" (1 Corinthians 14:16). The "Amen" at the end of the prayer by others means that they affirm the content of the prayer; but it is obvious that if the prayer is not understood, others cannot offer their "Amen" to it. The apostle Paul uses this Biblical custom to comment on the saints affirmation of God’s willingness to fulfill His promises to the brethren through Christ. "Wherefore," he concludes, "also by Him is our ‘Amen’ to the glory of God through us" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
- The glory of God - The expression the glory of God shows up in places where the reader might not expect it. One example is when the apostle speaks of immersion into Christ: "Therefore we have been buried with Him through immersion into death," he comments, adding, "in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). The saint’s new life began with the glory-of-the-Father’s raising Jesus from the dead, hence the glory of God was involved in raising the former sinner to new life in Christ. It is thus fitting that the apostle would say, "by Him is our ‘Amen’ to the glory of God"!
The promises of God are indeed "Yes" in Christ Jesus. God is the One who is for all the positives - the "Yes’s" - of earthly life as well as eternity. The apostle Paul, as a living exponent and example of those "Yes’s", is not going to be one whose "Yes" could be a "No" at the same time. Hence, when he planned to come to Corinth, that was his positive intention, and his enemies would have no ground for criticism because he had to delay his coming "to spare" the congregation his rod. He wants their repentance and his return to them to be an "Amen to the glory of God" through Christ.
What God Does
God does much more for the Christian than simply forgive his sins. It is true, of course, "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15), and that this salvation is of inestimable value. But "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Beginning of the creation of God," (Revelation 3:14), has additional wonderful blessings for the faithful follower of Christ. Immersion in Jesus’ name, for example, is not only "for the forgiveness of sins" but also that each immersee might receive the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The apostle Paul, in writing to the brethren in Corinth, wants to remind the saints of some of the tremendous things God has done for them so that they might focus on the blessings of being in Christ rather than being selfish and fleshly minded.
- Established – If the Christian is going to attempt to stand on his own in the midst of the tremendous spiritual battles that are raging, he is going to fall because he does not have enough strength by human effort alone to stand. Hence it is that God promises to set the foundation for each Christian and to provide girding for that foundation. "After you have suffered for a little while," Peter informed the brethren at large, "the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10). That "establish" is placing the saint, along with the apostles, on the firm foundation of God. "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ," also affirms Paul to the brethren in Corinth, "and anointed us is God" (2 Corinthians 1:21).
- Anointed – Not only is the saint established in Christ, but he is described as "anointed" as the apostle Paul mentions here in his epistle to the Corinthians. "As for you," the apostle John informed the called of Christ, "the anointing which you received from Him abides in you" (1 John 2:27). That which abides is the indwelling Spirit. As Jesus was anointed with the Spirit in His immersion, so the person being immersed into Christ is also anointed with the Spirit, but not in the realm that can be seen. Hence it is that each Christian is an anointed king and priest. "You are a royal priesthood," was how Peter described it (1 Peter 2:9).
- Sealed - God "also sealed us," affirms Paul (2 Corinthians 1:22). The apostle gave more information on this in his epistle to the Ephesians. "You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise," was his explanation. Once again, the indwelling Spirit is involved in the sealing process. Essentially, the saint has been stamped or sealed with an invisible inscription that marks him as belonging to Christ. "The firm foundation of God stands," asserted Paul, "having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness’ " (2 Timothy 2:19).
- Received pledge - God sealed us, averred Paul, "and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge." Once again, the reference in Ephesians gives more relevant information. "The Holy Spirit," the apostle informs, "is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:14). The indwelling Spirit, in other words, is given as the pledge - the "earnest money" as in a real estate offer - guaranteeing that God will carry out His promise to give saints the proper resurrection body [God’s own possession].
"As many as may be the promises of God," the apostle had pointed out to the brethren in Corinth, "in Him they are ‘Yes!’ " The modern saint should take some time to contemplate these tremendous promises God has given to each of His children of faith, processing the weight and the eternal value of what have been listed here. The saints are: 1) established, 2) anointed, 3) sealed, and 4) given the Spirit as a pledge. There is no reason for playing silly games or thinking small!
To Spare You
The church at Corinth was divided. Some said they were "of Paul," others "of Peter," others "of Apollos," and some claimed they were "of Christ." In the midst of this division, there were those who were bringing Greek philosophy and a Greek world view into the congregation. These had positioned themselves as leaders and teachers in the congregation, and were responsible for fomenting the developing schisms - schisms that threatened the future of the local body of Christ. Hence the apostle Paul had written, "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him." He then superadded, showing the flash of the sword of God’s word at these so-called enlightened ones, "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God" (1 Corinthians 3:17-19). Because leaders of the factions were trying to gain popularity with those who were still fleshly minded in the church, and because Greek philosophy said that the body was going to be immoral even if a person was a Christian, then "immorality of such a kind that does not exist even among the Gentiles" was allowed to persist. The apostle said that the congregation had become arrogant, allowing one of the men to have "his father’s wife" without doing anything about it. Paul had to take matters into his own hands, since the congregation would not act without his pushing them. In this discussion, then, he asked this question, "Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Corinthians 4:21-5:2). Such is the setting for the follow up letter the apostle wrote to the brethren.
- Not "yes" and "no’ - Paul’s intention was to come to Corinth on his way north to Macedonia, then to stop in again on his way south and on to Judea. But the internal situation in Corinth had not yet stabilized to the point where it would have been the right time for Paul to show up in person; he would have had to come with the rod. Thus he was delaying his arrival, giving them more time to get their situations straightened out. Because he changed his mind about the time of his coming to Corinth, he had to explain, especially to answer his critics. "With me," he queried, should there "be ‘yes, yes,’ and ‘no, no’ at the same time?" The answer to that question, of course, backed by the consistency of Paul’s character, was "as God is faithful, our word to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no’ " (2 Corinthians 1:17-18). In other words, he is coming to Corinth when he determines, in the sight of God, that the time is right.
- Reason for not coming - Having explained that he was not vacillating in his desire to "doubly bless" the congregation, he then tenders his reason for not coming. "But I call God as witness to my soul," he punctuates the truthfulness of his comments, "that to spare you I came no more to Corinth" (2 Corinthians 1:23). The congregation had not yet accomplished what Paul wanted them to achieve, and to spare the rod he did not come. "For I determined this for my own sake," he explains, "that I would not come to you in sorrow again" (2 Corinthians 2:1). Consequently, he is sending this letter rather than coming in person.
In this discussion, the apostle also wants to make it clear that the course each individual takes, and the course of the congregation as a whole will take, is a matter of their own free will. "Not that we lord it over your faith," is the remark he inserts for clarity, "but are workers with you for you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm" (2 Corinthians 1:24). He is encouraged that their faith at this point is still intact, and is making it clear that his work with them is for their joy and encouragement.
Anguish of Heart
The apostle Paul was the one who started the congregation at Corinth. He came into the city on his second missionary journey, having been run out of Thessalonica and Berea in Macedonia and without knowing anyone in the area. Taking a position with a fellow tentmaker named Aquilla and his wife Priscilla, he began the initial work of converting people to Christ. When the congregation had developed sufficiently, he went on to Ephesus, then on to Judea and Antioch of Syria, from whence he had been sent out. He loved the people in Corinth, and earnestly desired the salvation of their souls and the future steadfastness of faith for the congregation. Out of this anguish of heart, he writes the words in this second epistle, calling them to true repentance and commending them for any progress they have made. Positively approaching the issues, he makes his key point: "We are workers with you for your joy."
- Sorrow/gladness - Some of the issues in Corinth were of major importance and tearing at the core of the congregation. Paul did not want to come to the congregation until some of those things were internally resolved so that his time with them could be uplifting instead of his having to engage in disciplinary action. "For I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again," he had stated. "To spare you," he had earlier commented, "I came no more to Corinth." But he is clearly open to the possibility of their turning their situation around; in fact, this is his earnest desire. "For if I cause you sorrow," is his proposition, "who makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful?" (2 Corinthians 2:2). This is not simply a matter of making Paul happy, as if he were "lording it over their faith"; this is their eternal salvation.
- Reason for writing - In his first epistle, the apostle answered some of their questions and called them out on some moral issues. "And this is the very thing I wrote to you," he further explains, "lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy would be the joy of you all" (2 Corinthians 2:3). Real scriptural joy is tied to this statement of Jesus: "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). Since the Almighty God is the most important "Person" in the universe, it should be obvious that alienation from Him is the most serious issue in any human’s life. For Paul, who had labored intently in Corinth for the eternal souls of these brethren, his sorrow would be the result of their walking according to the flesh and his joy would be when they were walking according to the Spirit. He again expressed his confidence that they would get it right with God and exhibit the appropriate spiritual attitudes and actions.
- Paul’s intensity - It was out of a deep love for the Christ who saved him that Paul in turn loved the lost. This driving intensity was clearly displayed in his desire to take the gospel to all the places along his missionary journeys, his willingness to suffer greatly for preaching the gospel, and for his continuing efforts to see the saints conserved. "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears," he explains, "not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you" (2 Corinthians 2:4).
The apostle is not throwing the words "sorrow" and "glad" around lightly. These are earnest descriptions of what he is going through on behalf of the saints at Corinth. Eternity clearly hangs in the balance for many of the brethren in Achaia; the statement that "out of much affliction and anguish of heart" show the apostle’s intense and continuing concern. That concern and those tears stand as a great example of how much modern saints should care for the souls of the lost and the continuing faithfulness of the saved.
Accepting the Repentant
It seems that this concept – that sin is tremendously destructive - is hard to grasp. Over and over again mankind plunges into its depths and continues to pay the price of ruined lives and destroyed relationships, let alone the unseen cost of separation from God. Even Christians can fall into sin’s traps, as the scripture warns the saints: "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust," was James’ commentary. "Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." Having made this stern, stern warning, the elder in Jerusalem’s church added, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren" (James 1:14-16). Sin had worked deceptively and destructively in Corinth, so much so that Paul had to take matters into his own hand. Concerning the congregation’s refusal to deal with a situation wherein a man had his father’s wife, Paul had written, "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" (1 Corinthians 5:5). And he had superadded, "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves" (1 Corinthians 5:13). The congregation had assembled and followed Paul’s instructions, the goal being "that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
- Bringing back the repentant - Paul explains that he had written to the congregation, "not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you." Having introduced his point, the apostle uses the issue of "sorrow" to bring up the delicate point of welcoming back the individual who had so grievously sinned as recorded in the first epistle. "But if any has caused sorrow," is his gambit, "he has caused sorrow not to me, but to some degree - in order not to say too much - but to you all" (2 Corinthians 2:5). There are a couple of key points here that are worth noting for modern Christians and congregations. Notice that Paul is making certain that the issue with the man who sinned is not a personal issue, and the way he does that is by pointing out that the sorrow is not to him alone, but to the whole congregation as well. The second thing he does is to say that the sorrow was in "some degree", with the appending words "in order not to say too much." In this way the sin of the past has been acknowledged, but the way is now clear to move past that and into the next phase of solving the problem.
- Past punishment sufficient - The man involved in the sinful situation had been "delivered to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" and had been removed from the congregation. What the "destruction of the flesh" was, we do not have enough information to determine. But the combination of these two was sufficient to bring the man to his senses and he earnestly desired to be back in the fellowship of the congregation. The instructions following were significant not only to Corinth, but they also show how modern congregations are to handle similar issues should they arise. "Sufficient for such a one is the punishment which was inflicted by the majority," is his serious admonition, "so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow" (2 Corinthians 2:6-7). These behests by the apostle show the care necessary for the struggling saint, the execution of the desire of Jesus that no smoldering wick be put out, or battered reed be broken off (Matthew 12:20).
The leadership of the congregation would really need to set the tone in welcoming back this individual. They would need to "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to themselves, lest they too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1), while at the same time intelligently monitoring the progress of the penitent, making sure that he did not fall back into the same proclivities. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Love and Forgiveness
God desires that His children have their minds set on the things of the Spirit. But it can happen that the disciple ends up having his mind set on the flesh for a period of time. When such saints finally get their minds off a fleshly mindset and now have them set on the things of the Spirit, they are sometimes nearly overwhelmed by the destruction caused while their focus was wrong. In that state, their spiritual condition is tenuous, and Paul and the Holy Spirit give instructions: "You should forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overcome by excessive sorrow." The natural tendency of many is to be hesitant to associate with someone who has besmirched their own reputation, to say nothing of that of the Lord Jesus and His church. But the instructions call the believers in Christ to come out of their comfort zones, and "forgive and comfort" the penitent saint in the process of restoration. "Wherefore," pleads the apostle, "I urge you to reaffirm your love for him" (2 Corinthians 2:8).
- Obedience - The fellow soldier of Christ must never forget that spiritual warfare is being waged, that God is using the church to continue to rescue people from the clutches of Satan. It is a given, that in successful warfare good strategy is key. And when strategy is being implemented, it is critical that each soldier accept and carry out his role. "For to this end also I wrote," Paul informs the brethren, "that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things" (2 Corinthians 2:9). The evil one tries to keep people from being saved in the first place, tries to get the saved off track and back into the world in the second, and thirdly, tries to keep those who got off track from getting back on. Hence, Paul’s strategy in the third sector is just as critical as in the first and second. It is signally important that the church be obedient to the general’s instructions.
- Re-stressing forgiveness - The record shows that saints often stumble and fall on their way to becoming partakers of the divine nature, trying to escape the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:4). Inside the local congregation, therefore, there is a tremendous need for the brethren to follow instructions. "And so, as those who have been chosen of God," the apostle reminded the congregation at Colossae, be "... forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you" (Colossians 3:12-13). As Paul applies this principle to welcoming back one who had been disfellowshipped from the church, he writes, "But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:10). Once again, the positive manner in which the apostle’s gentleness shows in how he treats the painful sin and subsequent disfellowship proceedings with the almost parenthetical statement, "if I have forgiven anything."
- Satan’s schemes - If the devil could get the church at Corinth to reject this man who is honestly repentant and wants back into the fellowship, then he would have accomplished almost the same thing as if the man had never become a Christian in the first place. "You should forgive and comfort him," is Paul’s emphasis. And "if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Failure to forgive when forgiveness should be granted is falling into Satan’s trap just as much as thinking forgiveness has been granted when it hasn’t (as in following a false plan of salvation). Paul was leading by example. He was the one who initiated proceedings against the immoral man, and now - for the sakes of the brethren - he is leading by example in forgiving the same man. In this way, the full intent of the gospel can be carried out in saving the lost, conserving the saved, and restoring fellowship to those penitents who had wandered off the "strait and narrow."
No Rest for Paul’s Spirit
Later in this epistle, Paul will indicate the intense concern he has "for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28). This concern is derived from Paul’s knowledge of the immensity and diversity of the battle that each saint must fight in the spiritual realm. "Our struggle," adverted Paul to the Ephesian brethren, "is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). With Satan and his entire array of demonic influences working on the church, Paul’s concern was indeed justified. He was likewise conscious that there was the possibility of saints - indeed, whole congregations - be "tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). Part of that scheming would be the rejection of a wayward saint who had truly repented and wanted to come back to the Lord. Hence cometh the instructions to the congregation at Corinth, "in order that no advantage be take of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11).
- Troubled in spirit - Apparently the apostle had sent Titus to Corinth to check on the brethren, and to provide instruction and assistance wherever possible (2 Corinthians 12:17-18). At some point along the way, Paul expected Titus to meet him in Troas. But with difficulty in communication in those days, Titus was not there and Paul did not know why. "Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ," is Paul’s explanation, "and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding my brother Titus; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia" (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). Paul had expected to get a report from Titus on the spiritual condition and progress of the church at Corinth, and when Titus was not there to give the report, Paul was truly troubled in spirit and agitated about the congregation. Consequently, he left Troas even though there was an open door there for the preaching of the gospel; this is how much care and concern he had for the Corinthian brethren.
- Instructional interlude - Paul is temporarily going to drop the thread of his trying to meet Titus until later in the epistle. "For even when we came into Macedonia," he comments, five chapters later, "our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side; conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus" as Titus was able to give a positive report about the repentance of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:5-6). Between these two references to Titus, the apostle presents a sort of "stream of consciousness" instruction that ends up being some of the most important scripture in the entire Bible.
- The Triumph of Christ - While the apostle in chapter two does not directly reference his meeting up with Titus and the ensuing positive report, he does express his joy. Having stated that he had no rest for his spirit, he then continues, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place" (2 Corinthians 2:14). The apostle knew the underlying truth that God was working with him; and that regardless of the things which caused him to be concerned about the church in Corinth, God was going to make sure that everything worked for the ultimate triumph of the gospel in Christ.
The apostle Paul really cared deeply for the eternities of the brethren in Corinth. It was to communicate this love and concern that he shared some personal details of his having "no rest" for his spirit as he earnestly waited for positive news from Titus. Hopefully they listened.
Which Aroma Will it Be?
Studies have shown that the deepest embedded memories in a person’s life are often associated with the sense of smell. The fragrance of special flower at a wedding, the aroma of dumplings cooking on a wood stove, the fresh scent of the air after the first shower following a long dry spell ... these all evoke the pictures and events surrounding those times. It is also important to remember that the Lord designed the sense of smell - not only the organs designed to be sensors for odors, and the nerves for their transmission, but also the way the brain itself processes those. A rose smells sweet because of the brain’s way of handling the incoming nerve impulses, and a latrine has its unpleasant odors for the same reason. Most people, without any sort of human programming, tend to perceive the same types of scents as savory, and they likewise tend to categorize others as fetid. The apostle Paul is going to use this nearly universal human experience to begin a fairly long, almost "stream consciousness," sidebar to his discussion on his concern for the Corinthians until he heard from Titus.
- Sweet aroma - In spite of the Corinthians’ difficulties, and in spite of the time challenges and travail the apostle faced, he knew that God was working with him and through him. God "always leads us in triumph in Christ," he says. What a blessing to have true faith based on the promises of God as revealed now to us in the scripture, to know that the saint is always in a triumphant position so long as he follows the will of God! In addition to being led in victory, the apostle adds, "and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place" (2 Corinthians 2:14). For those whose spiritual nostrils are properly attuned, the knowledge of God being revealed through the apostle is like the fresh fragrance or savory smell. What a powerful and poignant picture!
- Different perceptions - The apostle is going to continue to use the ideas associated with the sense of smell to communicate the response of people to the gospel. "For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing," he states, noting that the sundry aromas ascend to the Majesty on high, "to the one an aroma of death to death, and to the other an aroma from life to life" (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). The non-Christians are those who are described as "perishing"; they, like Saul of Tarsus, could turn from their current lost position and be immersed into the body of Christ. To them the aroma of those who preach the gospel is like the flower whose bloom smells like rotten meat, "from death to death." By contrast, the Christians are described as those "who are being saved"; it is a process wherein they must be faithful until death, going triumphantly through whatever challenges and persecutions come their way. To them, the aroma of those who preach the gospel is like the pleasant aroma of lilacs in bloom, "from life to life."
Jesus had warned disciples that "the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it" (Matthew 7:14). Most people, then, are going to have a poor or hostile view of those who proclaim and teach the gospel, regarding them as worthy of the scrap heap. But for those who hear and obey the word of God, those who preach and teach are highly regarded, and appreciated for their knowledge, their work, and their sacrifices for the sake of Christ and redemption of the lost. For the first, then, proclaimers of the word are an "aroma from death to death"; for the second, an "aroma from life to life." In either case, because of the gravity of what is at stake, "who is adequate for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:16)
Peddling the Word?
It is no secret that greed is a motive for those who would claim to preach the word of God. Peter had warned that "there will be false teachers among you." Their appeal would be "sensuality" in one form or another, "and in their greed," said the apostle, "they will exploit you with false words" (2 Peter 2:1-2). These false teachers and preachers would seem to be a sweet fragrance to those who are perishing because they would be hearing what they want to hear. But those who preach the gospel as now recorded in scripture are not so regarded. As Paul discussed the idea of false preachers twisting or perverting the gospel, of himself he said, "For am I now seeking the favor of men or of God? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of God" (Galatians 1:10). It is clear throughout the teachings of the New Testament writings that anyone whose preaching and teaching pleases God is not going to be popular with the major segment of the human population. This truth will continue to be a challenge operating within the church of the living God, and in the comparatively near neighborhood of denominational preachments and doctrines.
- Cheapening the word - It is a business principle: if more product needs to be moved, the price needs to be marked down. If the motive of the supposed preacher is greed, then the "price" of the true gospel is going to be too high for most people, and therefore the number of people to be fleeced is too small to be worth the time for the shakedown artist. In addition, the word of God is designed to separate truth-seekers from the rest; and truth-seekers, by definition, recognize false teachers and preachers. The only resort, then, is for men-pleasers and greed-gratifiers to change the gospel —in some way to "cheapen" the message so that there will be more who will buy in to those false teachings. Paul was willing to be "an aroma from death to death" to those who would not obey the truth. But a comparatively high percentage of those who step into the pulpit or walk to the lectern are interested in pleasing the crowd. "For we are not like many," asseverates the apostle, "peddling the word of God" (2 Corinthians 2:17). "Mark it down; move it out!"
- Speaking in sincerity - The only way anyone of an adult mind level is going to heaven is by hearing and obeying the word of God. "You have been born again," stated the apostle Peter to those who had believed and obeyed the gospel of God, "through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). But if the message is twisted or perverted, it will not save anyone. It is in "obedience to the truth" that a person’s soul is purified; anything other than the truth will leave it in the same corrupted condition (1 Peter 1:22). The apostle Paul, intensely concerned about each person’s eternity, was not going to cheapen or "peddle" the word of God. "As from sincerity, ... as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 2:17). He was also conscious that God heard every word that he spoke, that the All Knowing knew every motive for his actions. Hence, aware of the continual presence of God, his goal was to please God in his statements, regardless of whether the person or group of persons he was addressing were happy with his proclamation.
"We are a fragrance of Christ to God," was his overriding comment. Ultimately, whether that fragrance to those who would not believe was an aroma from death to death, or whether that fragrance was regarded as the sweet aroma from life to life among the sons of men, what counted was his fragrance to God. Paul was going to continue to take his own advice and "preach the word, in season and out of season." Not an ear-tickler, or a crowd-pleaser, the apostle was sincerely going to speak "the truth in love." If he was able to save some, he praised God. If he needed to shake the dust off his feet, he did that also. But he preached the truth!
Letter of Commendation
A Jewish couple, usually listed as Priscilla and Aquila, hosted Paul when he had first come to Corinth because Paul was a tentmaker by trade and they worked together. The couple became very knowledgeable Christians, and traveled to Ephesus with Paul when he left Corinth. The apostle then left this couple in Ephesus to lay the groundwork for his preaching and teaching ministry when he returned. While Priscilla and Aquila were in Ephesus, a man named Apollos came into the synagogue, having origins in Alexandria, Egypt. He knew the story of Jesus accurately but only knew about John’s immersion, not knowing about immersion in Jesus’ name. This couple took Apollos aside and "explained to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26). Presumably Apollos was properly immersed, and subsequently they encouraged him to go to Corinth to preach. "And when he wanted to go across to Achaia," was Luke’s record of the events, "the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he arrived, he helped greatly those who had believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). The congregation in Corinth did not know Apollos, so he needed a letter from trusted brethren recommending him. Not so with Paul!
- What letter? - The apostle Paul was the one who started the congregation in Corinth. He said that he immersed Crispus and Gaius at the beginning of the local church, and said he could not remember for certain whether he had immersed the household of Stephanas. In those formative years of the church, he had labored for them, prayed for them, preached and taught for them. In the next phase of his defense to the Corinthians, then, he asks, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?" In writing this epistle, his purpose is not to puff himself up or present himself as somebody important; his goal is their edification for their eternal salvation. "Or do we need," he adds, "as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?" (2 Corinthians 3:1). Not so with Paul!
- The important letter - Personal contact is far superior to pieces of paper. "You are our letter," says the apostle, "written in our hearts, known and read by all men" (2 Corinthians 3:2). The congregation was the fruit of Paul’s efforts in Achaia. They, of course, should have remembered that. "The seed whose fruit is righteousness," commented James, "is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:18). Paul, instrument of Jesus Christ, was preaching peace to those who were far off [Gentile background] and to those who were near [Jewish background], and the Corinthian Christians were beneficiaries of that preaching and the resultant peace between them and God. Thus the apostle makes this forceful statement, "You are our letter." His personal concern is evident also in his modifying phrase, "written in our hearts." And not only was the letter written in the hearts of the apostle and those who labored with him, their existence as a congregation was a visible letter, "known and read by all men."
Ultimately, the congregation at Corinth was a representation of the success of the gospel of Jesus, and a credit to Christ Himself. You are, says the apostle, "being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us" (2 Corinthians 3:3). Can human effort alone cause another to be born again? Can human labors by themselves have even one person’s sins forgiven, or put the Spirit within the new convert? On a broad scale, who determines where the gospel itself will go, and where it will be positively received? "For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent," declares the Lord, "and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness and her salvation like a torch that is burning" (Isaiah 62:1). It is Jesus the Christ who accomplishes all this. Hence, of the Corinthians Paul emphasizes, "You are a letter of Christ."
Written by the Spirit
The Law of Moses constitutes a significant portion of the volume of the sacred writings moderns term "the Bible." In spite of its volume, however, the Law or Old Testament is not the significant thrust of the scriptures. That which constitutes the "new covenant" or "the faith of Christ"—which centers around what Christ accomplished through the cross and in His ascension—is rightly the focus of the inspired word of God. "Therefore let no one act as your judge," the apostle Paul instructed the congregation at Colossae, "in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day." In other words, the Colossian disciples of Christ were not to allow the Judaizers of their day to foist the practices of the Old Covenant upon them. The instruction continues, wherein the apostle points out that these "things are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17). This is a statement to ponder over: the substance belongs to Christ! Thus the Corinthian brethren were not products of the Law, but "a letter of Christ."
- Not with ink - The apostle had begun this section by talking about his not needing a letter of commendation to the brethren in Corinth and Cenchrea. "You are our letter," he had said. "You are a letter of Christ," he had superadded, "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Corinthians 3:3). The Corinthians, like all others who would obey the gospel and be saved, would have received the indwelling Spirit at their immersions into Christ, in accordance with scriptures such as Acts 2:38. Hence this "letter of Christ" was written when they—on an individual basis—were properly immersed. And what a letter! It was not written in ink, in the realm of the visible, but it was written with the awesome and mighty Spirit of God in the realm of the unseen, in the realm of faith. Certainly no other letter could compare.
- Not on tablets of stone - The apostle, in an intelligent way and manifesting considerable depth of thought, is introducing his instruction on the superiority of the new covenant as contrasted to the old. "You are a letter of Christ," he had expostulated, far in excess of anything that could have come through Moses. This letter, written with the Spirit, was not on the cold, hard "tablets of stone" of the Old Covenant, but on living, regenerated "tablets of human hearts." The superiority of the new system—the faith of Christ—is clear to those who will process the difference between this and the law of Moses.
- The Spirit of the living God - There is a huge difference between the law and the faith, and a major portion of that difference is centered upon the indwelling Holy Spirit. For example, as the apostle Paul was reasoning with the Galatian Christians about the difference between the Law of Moses and the faith of Christ, he asked a very poignant question: "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:2). The system of the Law never promised the indwelling Holy Spirit, whereas the indwelling Spirit is the primary topic of the system of faith. Hence it is highly significant that Paul would emphasize that this "letter of Christ" was not written on tablets of stone, but rather written by the Spirit of the living God!
Would Paul then need a letter of commendation to the church at Corinth? The Corinthian Christians themselves being Paul’s letter, none other was needed. But this "letter of Christ, cared for by us" was actually written by the Spirit of the living God! Thus, the information coming in this epistle, has the Spirit’s backing. "And such confidence we have through Christ toward God" (2 Corinthians 3:4). The brethren would be wise to "listen up!"
Servants of the New Covenant
The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, often exposited the superiority of the new covenant over the old. The old covenant, or old will, was temporary, and was set aside when the new covenant took effect. With this the writer of Hebrews agrees, working off the Old Testament quotation wherein Jesus spoke aforetime by the prophet and psalmist David: "Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do Your will, O God.’" (Hebrews 10:7). The inspired writer of the epistle to the Hebrew brethren then noted, "He takes away the first in order to establish the second." Then he superadded, for clarity and expansion, "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:9-10). To be, then, a promulgator, expositor, and servant of this will—or covenant—would be a high honor indeed.
- Source of adequacy - "We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing," Paul had commented. He followed that with this statement, "And who is adequate for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). On a purely human basis, the answer clearly is that no one is adequate. After some intersticed comments, the apostle now comes back to the issue of adequacy. "And such [great] confidence we have through Christ toward God," is Paul’s thrust. "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves," he is quick to add, "but our adequacy is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5). The apostle Paul was a leading exponent of the potential performance disciples of Christ can exhibit to the world. "Be imitators of me," he had exhorted the brethren in his first epistle to the Corinthians, "just as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). Those who oppose the Biblical concept that saints can walk in the character footsteps of Christ often take the tack that such men as Paul claimed to be able to accomplish this high level of performance by their own or mere human power. Thus he is emphatic that his adequacy is from God!
- Adequate as servants - Solomon asked for wisdom to rule the people of God, and God indeed granted his request, plus riches and power. But who is greater in the annals of God—Solomon, or Paul? Without question, the apostle Paul is far superior, particularly in the spiritual realm. So, what did Paul receive from God? Was it wisdom to rule, or riches, or power? Nope; it was adequacy! And adequacy for what? "Our adequacy is from God," he adverts, "who also made us adequate as servants of the new covenant" (2 Corinthians 3:6). Paul, and those who worked with him, were given the necessary spiritual tools and character to be able to be of major use in modeling and promulgating the principles of the new covenant. This adequacy, properly understood, was far in excess of anything that Solomon received.
The fact that Paul regarded himself as a servant of the new covenant is interesting. Normally, people don’t think of themselves as servants of concepts. He had written, in his first epistle, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1). There was a type of servanthood connected with the transmission of the truthfulness of the mysteries, or the revealed secrets of God. As a servant, then, of the new covenant, the apostle is making it clear that this covenant is "not of the letter, but of the Spirit." It is interesting that another name for the new covenant would be the covenant of the Spirit. The conceptual differences between the covenant of the Spirit and that which was "of the letter"—the Law of Moses—are immense. The fact that Paul was made adequate as a servant of the new covenant, with its emphasis on who the Spirit is and what He does, is evident in the inspired records of the New Testament writings. If Paul had not stood for the covenant of the Spirit, as he detailed in the epistle to the Galatians, the church as a whole would probably have been gone from the surface of the earth forever.
Letter Kills - Spirit Gives Life
"The Law," inculcated the apostle Paul, "is holy, and the commandment is righteous and holy and good" (Romans 7:12). If the Law and its associated commandments are good, how is it that the Law failed? The problem is sin and the carnal desires of mankind. "Sin," explained the apostle, "taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me" (Romans 7:10). The Law only acts when it is broken; and in breaking the Law by violating one of the commandments, the individual is put to death spiritually. The apostle Paul, servant of the new covenant and steward of the mysteries of God contained therein, would thus call the old covenant—which was the covenant "of the letter," having come "in letters engraved on stones"—the covenant of death. By contrast, the "covenant of the Spirit" is also the covenant of life.
- Ministry of death - The covenant of the letter had no solution for those who broke its commandments. In his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul spoke of its tenets as encapsulated in the expression "the law of sin and of death" (Romans 8:2). The connection between sin and death is simple: a person sins, a person dies a spiritual death. Hence Paul speaks of the Law as "the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones" (2 Corinthians 3:7).
- Comparison of glories - "The Law was given through Moses," averred the apostle John (John 1:17). Early in his ministry, Moses began to receive the words of the Law in a very special fashion. When he came down from Mount Sinai with the replacement set of commandments, his face was shining because of his having seen the back edge of God’s glory. He delivered the next section of the Law, and then put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not see the glory fade away. From that point forward, Moses would be called to the tent of meeting where the Lord would descend in a pillar of cloud and speak to Moses "face to face," and the Lord would deliver the next section of the Law. Moses, then, with shining face, would in turn pass the directives on to the people. Having thus delivered these "living oracles," Moses would once again cover his face with the veil. This shining face was the glory with which the Law was exposited to Israel. "But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones," comments the apostle, "came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?" (2 Corinthians 3:7-8). The new covenant, "written by the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts," is far superior that which was written on lifeless stone; hence it comes with much greater glory than that which shone in Moses’ face.
The superlative nature of the new covenant continues to be expounded upon by the apostle. "For if the ministry of condemnation has glory," speaks Paul of said Law, "how much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory?" The righteousness of God only comes to those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God; thus the expression "the ministry of righteousness." The apostle superadds, "For indeed what had glory [the Law], in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it [the new covenant]" (2 Corinthians 3:9-10). That old covenant, with the paltry glory as compared to the brightness of the glory of the new covenant, was in fact temporary. "For if that which fades away was with glory," says Paul of that which came with the fading glory of Moses’ face, "much more that which remains is in glory" (2 Corinthians 3:11). The new covenant is eternal, and comes with a glory much more powerful than that which shone in Moses’ face!
Reason for Boldness
Moses was a bold man. He had some boldness when he struck down the Egyptian slave driver and buried him in the sand, but he had to flee to the land of Midian for forty years. In that time, he may have lost what boldness he had; when told to go to Egypt, his response to God was, "Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will" [meaning "send the message by somebody else"] (Exodus 2:13). But step by step God emboldened Moses, and he was able to stand before Pharaoh as the one in control of the situation—unmoved and unthreatened by Pharoah’s power or ragings. Later, from Mt. Sinai on through the travels in the wilderness, Moses had to stand almost single-handedly before the rebellious sons of Israel. It was with the strength of the Lord and with boldness that he repeatedly, with his face shining with the fading glory, delivered the succeeding sections of the Law to Israel.
- Glory compared - The "ministry of death," says Paul, came with the fading glory shining in Moses’ face, but the "ministry of the Spirit" came with a much greater glory. Moses, as the one who gave his name to the first covenant, was a servant in the house, whereas Christ is the Son and the builder of the house, "whose house we are" (Hebrews 3:1-6). Hence the covenant bearing the name of Christ—"the faith of Christ"—came with a greater glory, "the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). While there was some candlepower in the brightness of Moses’ face, it was nothing compared to the brightness of the glory of God. "For if that which fades away was with glory," avers Paul of the Law, "much more that which remains [the faith of Christ] is in glory" (2 Corinthians 3:11).
- Relation to boldness - After commenting on the fact that the faith of Christ is the covenant which remains, Paul adds, "Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in speech" (2 Corinthians 3:12). What is the hope to which the apostle refers as the source of this boldness? Hope is usually tied to the resurrection of the dead, especially the saints of God, on the last day. "I do serve the God of our fathers," affirmed Paul in his testimony before the Roman governor Felix, "believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 24:14-15). In another expression, speaking of the same thing, Paul had written that "we exult in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2). The certainty of the attaining to the glory of God is not in doubt; what remains in question, and the reason why the word hope is attached to it, is the timing of the brethren’s resurrection to glory. Thus Paul says that in having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech.
But the tie-in to glory is not simply the glory to be attained at the resurrection on the last day. "We use great boldness in our speech," adverts the apostle, "and are not as Moses, who used to put a veil over his face" (2 Corinthians 3:13). By great contrast, "we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18). The Christian has glory now, glory seen in the shining face of Christ, and this glory is the source of strength and courage in enabling the saint to use great boldness in his speech. This is part of the covenant of the Spirit; the glory that is seen with the unveiled face is in the realm of faith, as revealed by the word of God. What a blessing it is for modern disciples of Christ to be able to operate under the terms of the new and unfading covenant, the faith of Christ!
What is Fading Away
The Old Covenant, with its ten core commandments being thundered from Sinai, seemed on the surface to be very permanent. But with more information coming through the succeeding revelation from God in the writings of the New Covenant, it becomes clear that the Old was designed from the beginning to be temporary. "There is a setting aside of the former commandment...," said Hebrews’ author, "for the Law made nothing perfect" (Hebrews 7:18-19). The Law, with its statutes, ordinances, and commandments, was necessary because it was the means by which God showed Israel its sinfulness and hence its need for a Savior. It also contained the prophecies, foreshadows, and types so critical in establishing the truthfulness of God’s coming to earth as a Man—to die by crucifixion as the sacrifice, to be raised from the dead and viewed by witnesses, and to ascend to glory as High Priest and King. But from the beginning, the Law was designed to fade away.
- Veil over what was fading away - "Moses," avers Paul, "used to put a veil over his face that the sons of Israel might not look intently at the end of what was fading away" (2 Corinthians 3:13). It was the glory shining in Moses’ face that was fading away, the glory by which Moses delivered the Law to the Sons of Israel. But that fading glory signaled that what was delivered through that glory was also temporary rather than permanent. Hence God was communicating from the beginning of the Mosaic covenant that it was a temporary covenant, and that it was designed from the beginning to be replaced by a superior covenant. But it takes these statements from the inspired apostle Paul to begin to understand that.
- Minds hardened - The Jews, as anticipated by God, had a very difficult time processing that their beloved Law and customs were only a temporary feature until Christ could come and bring His covenant into fruition. God had clearly laid the groundwork for the coming of the covenant of Christ in the writings of the Old Testament, and also had indicated that the vast bulk of the Hebrews would reject the teachings concerning Christ and His covenant. "But their minds were hardened," comments Paul, "for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ" (2 Corinthians 3:14). The unconverted Jew could not see what the Old Testament was pointing at, and his inner man was thus blinded off to seeing Christ in glory. Only if he were to begin to understand that Jesus was indeed the revelation of God to man, and that immersion into Him was absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of his sins and for the reception of the indwelling Spirit, would that veil be removed. Then his mind would no longer be hardened.
- Veil over their hearts - It has been well said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. Hence, once a person begins to understand the New Testament writings and how they bring the truthfulness of the testimony concerning Jesus to the fore, he can begin increasingly to understand how the types, foreshadows, and prophesies clearly point to Jesus the Messiah and His kingdom (the church). But a refusal to believe what the scripture says about Jesus results in a deliberate blindness. "But to this day," comments Paul on this very subject, "whenever Moses [the Old Testament writings] is read, a veil lies over their heart" (2 Corinthians 3:15). They are blinded off to the teachings of the New Covenant, which explains Christ and "Christ in you."
The good news is that "whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (2 Corinthians 3:16) Whenever a person turns to the Lord in immersion, his inner man beholds the glory of the Lord, and he now participates in the unfading, permanent, eternal covenant. With the veil now removed, he can see what God has always wanted His children to see.
With Unveiled Face
Abraham dispatched a trusted servant to go back to his people and get a wife for his son Isaac. Rebekah agreed to go with the servant, and undoubtedly with high hopes enjoyed the camel caravan from Paddam-Aram to the area that would become the Promised Land. As the troupe approached the locality of Isaac, Rebekah asked who the man in the field was. When the response was that the man was the master (Isaac), "she took a veil and covered herself" (Genesis 24:65). Until the man and wife were united, there was a veil between them. While there is no direct New Testament reference back to this, it is interesting that until a person is united with Christ in immersion, there is a veil of separation between that individual and Christ.
- Involvement of the Spirit - The new covenant, Paul had noted, was not a covenant of the letter but was the covenant of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6). The letter—the Law—produced slaves. "The present Jerusalem," the apostle thus asserted to the Galatian brethren who were struggling with the Judaizers in their midst, "is in slavery with her children" (Galatians 4:25). What, then, is the distinguishing seal or mark of those who are free instead of in slavery? It is the indwelling Spirit!! "You," adverted Paul of all who became Christians, "were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13). Hence he pens these words to the Corinthian brethren, "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Corinthians 3:17). Only those who are indwelt by the Spirit of the living God are free; the rest are still in slavery to sin and the rudimentary principles of the world.
- With veil removed - "The veil," notes the apostle Paul, "is removed in Christ." Those who have been immersed into Christ—those who have been immersed according to Acts 2:38 for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the indwelling Spirit—are now positioned to see what God wants them to see. "But we all," animadverts the apostle, "with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18). The bride of Christ, on an individual basis, in union with Christ, now has the veil removed and the inner person of each Christian beholds the actual glory of the Bridegroom Himself.
- Transformation - Here, in 2 Corinthians 3:18, is recorded the only mechanism for the transformation of the inner man. There is no amount of human effort that can transform the inner man; there is no set of self-help books or programs that will touch what is on the inside. This is something only God can do. But He does not accomplish such change without the willing participation of the individual who desires to be saved by the faith revealed in the scriptures. When the saint, with face now unveiled due to his immersion, beholds the glory of the Lord, the transformation process occurs.
Paul uses the expression "beholding as in a mirror." In 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, as the apostle talked about the gifts of the Spirit such as special knowledge, tongues or foreign languages, or prophesying, he spoke of those as passing away in connection with the coming of "the perfect thing." The perfect or complete thing, was in this case the completed word of God, which came into existence as the apostle John wrote his last contributions and as the gifts of the Spirit—given through the laying on the apostles’ hands—died out. The completed New Testament writings are thus referred to as a mirror into which a person could see clearly, as contrasted to Paul who at the time of 1 Corinthians’ writing could only see somewhat unclearly. The mirror, then, that shows clearly the "glory of the Lord" is the completed New Testament. Only those with "unveiled face" can behold that glory, and only they will be transformed in the inner man.
From Glory to Glory
God goes to a lot of work to define the word "glory." Glory in a general sense has to do with brightness or shiningness. By extension it refers to honor heaped upon an individual, drawn from the idea that the floodlights of a stage would draw attention to the actor being called back for another curtain call to the standing ovation of an audience, or the spotlight directing the focus of the throng in the theater on the solo portions of a chorale performance. But the Father used the whole spectacle of Jesus, including His crucifixion and bodily resurrection, to give glory a specific or specialized meaning. That meaning is the brightness of the God who is light. Jesus, say the scriptures, "is the radiance of [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3).
- Revelation of the Father - "No man has seen God at any time," expostulated the apostle John. "The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him" (John 1:18). One of the major purposes of Jesus’ coming to earth was to reveal to mankind the nature and Person of the true God. Hence the word of God records that the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary so that she could conceive the One known as the Son of God. By scriptural revelation, we are permitted to follow the life of Jesus on earth through His immersion, His teachings and ministry, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, His appearances, and His ascension. The Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles and New Testament prophets the nature of Christ following His ascension, describing Him as dwelling in glory, or "unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:16). Thus God educates the mind of the believer, and he is prepared to behold the glory of God.
- Beholding in the mirror - God communicates Himself through the written word. Jesus, as the revelation of God, is Himself revealed through the writings of the apostles and prophets. Hence the newly immersed saint, with the spiritual "sheath" removed, can more clearly understand what is written in the pages of God’s holy word, and his inner man can now see what could never be seen by natural man. "But we all," Paul educates the brethren, "with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). What is beheld in the mirror of the completed New Testament is the glory of the Lord! And what could be more awesome or more powerful than that?
- Transformed - What is transformed is the inner man. What used to be "darkness" is now "light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). The inner man is now this brilliant and shining new creation in the image of the Lord of glory; this is the initial glory mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3:18, a glory in the realm of faith, in the realm of the unseen. But there is a final glory, and this is the glory when the individual is complete with his resurrection body at Jesus’ return. Of the body, Paul informed the brethren, "It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory" (1 Corinthians 15:43). Therefore Paul uses the expression "from glory to glory," describing the movement from the glory only in the inner man to the full glory of the resurrected Christian exhibiting the glory of God. "Beloved," wrote the aged John to the brethren in general, "now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
In all phases of the transformation, it is the Spirit who is accomplishing the work. "Glory now" is the result of the transforming work of the Spirit in the inner man, and "glory then" will also be the result of the transforming work of the Spirit. The new covenant really is "the covenant of the Spirit"!
This Mystery of the new covenant
The word of God puts pressure on mankind. The very concept of repentance requires that every human being be moved out of his comfort zone and coming on over into the "newness of life" being offered by the gospel of God. Human nature tends to resist change, especially if said change is going to require effort. Hence God uses the maximum positive/negative gradient to effect change in men. He points out that if they don’t change, the eternal hellfire awaits; or if they are willing to walk in His ways, the glories of a magnificent heaven are the reward. God, in His gracious and merciful manner, tenders His offer in a gentlemanly way, bringing the message to mankind through messengers who themselves have shared in the human experience. The intellectual and far reaching faith concepts thus come to the lost with a human touch. But in spite of the tenderness of the loving Father, mankind tends to become angry, and they vent their wrath over the supposed injustice of God on those who carry the message. This is one of the reasons apostolic messengers such as Paul offer themselves as examples of how the hostility should be handled.
- We have this ministry - "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?" Paul had stated, somewhat in his defense. "We are not adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves," he had added, "but our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate as servants [ministers] of a new covenant" (2 Corinthians 3:1-6). Holding that thought in abeyance for a paragraph or two, he then continues, "Therefore, since we have received this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart" (2 Corinthians 4:1). The apostle is clearly establishing his personal unworthiness apart from God to carry out this great mission, comparing the reception of the ministry to the reception of God’s mercy. And, in spite of the massive rejection of the message, he did not "lose heart" (he did not become discouraged).
- Eliminating the negatives - But there is a connection between the character of the messenger and the willingness of the hearers to listen to or accept the message. Therefore follows a list of things which the apostles laid aside in order to be effective carriers of the message of God’s great transforming power. "We have renounced the things hidden because of shame," Paul is willing to announce to the world (2 Corinthians 4:2). No secret sins carried out in privacy, no trysts in the darkness, no scams or swindling upon the unsuspecting...these have been expunged from the lifestyle. He continues, adding that he and the others are "not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God." There would be no deceiving subtleties of Satan in twisting the preaching, nor would there be any corrupting and poisonous additions to the gospel of glory.
- Accentuating the positive - It is one thing to put away the deeds of darkness, it is another to put on the armor of light. Therefore the positive characteristics developed by Paul and other proclaimers is more than worthy of a listing as well. He first comments on "the manifestation of truth." The messengers of God must not just make a claim to being truthful, but they must demonstrate openly and under any challenging situations that they will tell the truth, particularly pressing the claims of Jesus Christ upon the souls of men. He adds that they were "commending ourselves to every man’s conscience." They knew that they could withstand any honest scrutiny of their attitudes, actions, and motives. He superadds, "in the sight of God." The apostles were conscious that God sees all, hears all, and knows all.
Paul has put his statements out on the table, ready for examination of any who would choose to criticize him rather than listen to and process his message. Those who will preach the message of the gospel of the glory of Christ and proclaim the transforming potential embodied in the scriptures of this section, will face rejection and persecution from those who do not want to overcome their own personal inertia, face their sins, and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Be imitators of Paul, as he was of Christ!
What the god of this world does
Satan is the prince of darkness, the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. In His long war against the Almighty, he has made it his mission to confuse the sons of men, to get them to worship idols (or anything other than the true worship of God), and to turn away from fellowship with Christ. All the wars waged on the physical surface of this planet, all the destructive economic policies of nations, all the confusions of denominational false teachings, all the pressures of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, all the personal and private disputes, all the forces of "the new world order" ... these are all part of the efforts of Satan, raised up against the knowledge of God revealed through Jesus Christ. Conscious of the scope of this warfare, Jesus prayed on the west side of the Kidron before He crossed to Gethsemane: "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all mankind, that to all You have given Him, He may give eternal life" (John 17:1-2). Because the glorification of Jesus - His ascension to glory - is the key mechanism in giving mankind eternal life, it is to be expected that Satan will do everything he can to attack the understanding of that glory.
- The gospel unveiled - The apostle Paul labored intently in 2 Corinthians chapter three to establish what the saint sees in his inner man. "But we all," says he of those who have been properly immersed into Christ, "with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). With the veil of "the old man" removed, the new creation in Christ is ushered into fellowship with the eternal God. In conjunction with the "mirror," the completed word of God - whose words are "spirit and are life" (John 6:63) - the Holy Spirit works with power in the inner man to transform the saint into the image of the One who created Him in Christ Jesus, that his fellowship with the Eternal and Shining One might be complete.
- The gospel veiled - The apostle has just described his efforts and the efforts of his fellow proclaimers to preach these tremendous truths honestly and completely, and it is implicit that they accomplished that goal. But in spite of their efforts, which could not have been done better, there were many who did not believe. "And even if our gospel is veiled," he then comments, "it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). What Satan does is to blind the mind; that is, he puts in motion temptation factors that - when yielded to - make it so the individual cannot reason correctly. Pressure from the so-called "scientific community" might be such that the individual cannot rationally process that what he sees in the world around him had to be created. Family ties might be so strong that the earthling cannot see that "baptisma" means immersion. Hence his mind spoken of as having been "blinded."
Regardless of what point the blinding occurs—whether on one end of the spiritual spectrum it is in failure to see that the Bible is the word of God, or whether on the other end it is an unwillingness to process the transforming power of the gospel of glory—the result is the same. The trapped man cannot see the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ." This, then, is clearly what the entire battle is all about. This also is no mere intellectual side note; Paul and the Holy Spirit say that those who do not see this light of the gospel of the glory of Christ are perishing.
Glory in the face of Christ
The apostle John made it clear that Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was to explain God, at least to those of mankind who have a desire to know Him. The foundation for believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is laid in the Old Testament writings: the law, the sacrifices, the history, the foreshadows, and the prophecies. Hence as Jesus comes into the world, the writers of the gospel accounts can quote freely from those scrolls to establish the truthfulness of their records. Following Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, appearances, and ascension, the New Testament writings can continue to quote from that which was read in the synagogues every Sabbath. In this way they could establish the truthfulness of their claims concerning Jesus, who now lives triumphantly in glory. Jesus is thus "the radiance of the Father’s glory, and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3). In this way Jesus in His glorified state is the complete revelation or explanation of the Father.
- Gospel of glory - The revelation from God focuses past Jesus on the cross, past Jesus standing next to the empty tomb; it points the beam of our attention to Jesus in glory. Later in this epistle, Paul would say, "Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer" (2 Corinthians 5:16). The present Jesus is not Jesus according to the flesh; the present Jesus is the Jesus in glory. Therefore, while the gospel accounts do record the events of Jesus during the years of His earthly sojourn, the goal of God is to get the saints to "see" by the eye of faith the Jesus who now is. Satan’s goal is to prevent people from "seeing" Jesus in His glory. "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
- Preaching Christ - Those, such as the apostles, who behold the glory of the Lord as revealed in the "mirror," are being transformed "into the same image" (2 Corinthians 3:18). Those who were accusatory of Paul would charge that he was preaching himself, elevating himself. The opposition would go that direction because the accusers were feeling pressure due to the sterling character that Paul—transformed—exhibited. Hence he writes, "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord," adding, "and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5). Paul’s goal in the preaching is thus clarified and on record; let those who are in opposition say whatever they are going to say.
- Glory of God - The apostle always wants to give proper credit to God. The transforming power, for example, working in the inner man of the Christian is that of the glory of God, operating through the Holy Spirit. In a follow-up comment to the idea that he and the others were your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake, he emphasizes, "For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). The credit for their outstanding performance goes to the One who shone in their hearts!
What did Paul see? What was shining? It is worth emphasizing, since it is the most important saliency of the word of God: what Paul was seeing was the glory of God in the face of Christ! The old covenant came with a comparatively paltry glory shining in the face of Moses, a temporary glory; the new covenant came with a tremendously intense glory shining in the face of Christ, a permanent glory. This glory is not only seen by men such as Paul by direct revelation, but it is also seen in the inner man by the revelation of the written word for anyone who is truly born from above! Thus "believing is seeing."
Physical Creation to the New Creation
The human mind is engineered in such a way that it can detect patterns of obvious design as contrasted to random workings of nature. The intelligent design movement, for example, has had to go to great lengths to try to define how mankind in general detect the difference between human-caused carvings on the wall of a canyon as contrasted to the natural erosion marks of water. Ordinarily such efforts would not be necessary. But the refusal of the atheist/evolution crowd to recognize that life absolutely had to be structured has driven proponents of design to identify the processes which humans go through basically instantaneously in recognizing the differences. The God who thus engineered the human mind to recognize the difference between design and natural randomness also ordered the human mind to recognize that the patterns set in motion in old testament writings must also be products of His design. Recognition of such patterns, called types or foreshadows, also causes the honest member of the human race to conclude that God must also be the author of the scriptures just as surely as He is the designer of life.
- First day of creation - God’s first foreshadow is connected with the first day of creation. "The earth was formless and void," was the record handed down to Moses, "and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). The narrative went on, noting the first recorded command of God: "Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). In connection with the command for light to begin shining on formless earth, God acted. "And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness He called ‘night’ " (Genesis 1:4-5a). Having made the separation, and having named the opposites, God then brought this point to the fore: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day" (Genesis 1:5b).
- Paul’s inspired parallel - The apostle takes his readers back to the first day of creation, and then begins to point out how the physical creation was a foreshadow of the new creation. "For God who said, ‘Light shall shine out of the darkness,’ " affirms the apostle, "is the One who has shone in our hearts" (2 Corinthians 4:6). As the earth initially was formless and empty, so also the alien sinner is formless, empty, and in darkness. As the physical earth was formed out of water, so the alien sinner will be formed out of the waters of immersion into Christ. As the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters at the Creation, in the same fashion He hovers over the waters of immersion, entering the new creation as he comes up out of the water. For him it was "evening"—his past life—and now it is "morning"—the first day of his new life in Christ. As God separated the light from the darkness, just so the new saint is separated from the darkened and alienated world and has come into the light of a new life and fellowship with Jesus and His saints.
The God who said that light was to shine in the darkness is described as now shining "in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." In the heart of the Christian—in the inner man—there really is a light shining, just as surely as there was light shining on the first day of Creation. It is not metaphorical light; it is light! "You were formerly darkness," said Paul in another place, "but now you are light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). The same light of the glory of God that is shining in the face of Christ is now shining in the inner man of the Christian, and it is transforming him into the likeness of that same glory. Shine, Christian, shine!
Treasure in Chipped Pottery
Mankind has always had a tendency to take too much credit for its accomplishments, and generally refuses to recognize the role and power of God. King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylonian fame, is a good example. Although warned by God in a vision interpreted by Daniel, the king stepped over the line. "Is this not Babylon the great," he arrogantly reflected, "which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). By the decree of God, Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind for seven seasons of time, unkempt and drenched by the dew. This was so that he would recognize that the "Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes" (Daniel 4:25). As powerful a king as was Nebuchadnezzar, his might and power were only in the physical realm. The Christian is a king in the spiritual realm and has excessively greater power than any earthly king could ever have, although it is in the realm which is unseen by the physical eye. Hence God has some provisions in place to keep such spiritual kings from exalting themselves, those who have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ shining in their hearts.
- Treasure - "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels," (2 Corinthians 4:7) is Paul’s comment. What would this treasure be? Spanish gold? Aztec silver? The riches of precious jewels? No, these riches will be of a different type. Elsewhere, the apostle Paul speaks of "the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). The riches of the glory of the mystery is Christ in you? That is worthy of some mental processing. Certainly, the Builder of the house is of more value than the house, "whose house we [as the church] are" (Hebrews 3:6). And certainly, the Maker of all things is of more value than any of the things. The treasure being "Christ in you," properly processed, means that all of God indwells the Christian. What, then, could possibly be of more value than that?
- Earthen vessels - The body of the Christian was made from the dust of the ground. The apostle thus uses the expression that "we have this treasure in earthen vessels." The body is frail by comparison—a tent in one of Paul’s metaphors. Because it is subject to aging, disease, and disaster, it might even be considered to be "chipped pottery," at least by the time an individual has lived a number of decades of earthly life.
- The power - As previously mentioned, the power of Nebuchadnezzar, emperor of Babylon, was nothing in comparison to the spiritual power working inside the saint of God. Nebuchadnezzar could have armies march and conquer kingdoms; the Christian can overpower sin in his life and carry on the fight in the realm of spiritual warfare. The apostle then gives the reason that the power is in these chipped vessels: it is so "that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not of ourselves." The earthen nature of the vessel is no indication of the wondrous spiritual power that lies within. The body of the disciple of Christ is of the same material as the body of the non-Christian. The accomplishments of the child of the King in the spiritual realm then clearly illustrate that the power has to come from God (and only particularly noticed by the spiritually aware) and could not come from the individual on his own.
The servants of God, like their Master the Lord Jesus, are humble. Rather than claiming credit for what was accomplished through them and making the mistake of Nebuchadnezzar, they recognize and acknowledge that what was done was done by the grace of God. They are excited that the surpassing greatness of the power should be exhibited through them as being of God, and that He get the glory!
Power to Overcome
God allowed many of the first century Christians to suffer greatly. The apostles, for example, underwent great persecution for the faith, and—by the grace of God and the future of the church—never caved in or recanted their testimony. When modern saints are in the process of establishing the truthfulness of the New Testament writings, one of the key pieces in the evidence is this: the apostles had every earthly reason to back away from their asseveration that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead but not a single one of them did! If the story of the Christ were fiction, held together by twelve or thirteen conspirators, it is almost totally unlikely that all of them would have stood firm for such a lie in the face of tremendous opposition. The record of the apostle Paul is especially interesting in this regard. At first a persecutor of Christians, he turned to the Lord and became one of the gospel’s most dedicated proponents. He, in his own words, lost everything of earthly value in becoming a disciple of Christ and in preaching that Jesus was raised from the dead. "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only," was his comment on this subject, "we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19). It would be absolutely stupid to suffer so much and die a martyr’s death for something he knew to be a lie. Thus God, in His big plan and overarching panoramic view, allowed the apostles and other early Christians to suffer greatly to establish the truthfulness of the New Testament writings for the benefit of those weighing the testimony in the twenty-first century.
- Challenges - Paul was explaining that the power of the indwelling Spirit was working in "earthen vessels," to establish that their power to overcome was from God. "We are afflicted in every way," he records, "but not crushed" (2 Corinthians 4:8). This was no exaggeration; even a small listing of what Paul went through is enough to stagger the thoughtful reader. But the powerful outcome was that in spite of such persecution, "we are not crushed." Most would be. "Perplexed," he adds, "but not despairing." There were many situations in which the apostle could have asked, "Why is this happening now, and why is it happening in this way?" But he had learned to trust in God, and to know that God was working all things for good; hence he was not despairing the outcome. "Persecuted," is another point he brings to the fore, "but not forsaken" (II Corinthians 4:9). It would be important to remember that, under the new covenant, when things seem to be going wrong in the physical realm, that is no indication that God has abandoned the individual as it often was under the old covenant. "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you," are reassuring words from the scriptures (Hebrews 13:5). "Struck down," the apostle superadds, "but not destroyed." Run out of town, whipped, beaten, stoned, left for dead ... but not destroyed! He lived to preach another day.
- Dying to live - The apostle had earlier mentioned in this epistle that "the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance" (2 Corinthians 1:5). As he discussed the afflictions, the perplexities, the persecutions, the times he was struck down, the apostle tied those things to sharing in those sufferings of Christ. He thus described his situation as "always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:10). He had to die in order to "really live."
Jesus repeatedly taught that "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it" (Mark 8:35). The modern Christian needs carefully to process the concept that he must die to self and live totally for Christ. Living totally for Christ includes the suffering involved in carrying out in the body the dying of Jesus. Then, and only then, can the exemplary life of Jesus be manifested in the life of the saint.
Life of Jesus Manifested
The world, in its current condition, could certainly use a multiplicity of saints who would imitate the character of Jesus. Such was the intent of the Lord Himself as He laid the framework for the onrushing new covenant in His teachings presented during the "Sermon on the Mount." In simple words, He communicated the grand concept: "You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world ... be the sons of your Father who is in heaven ... be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:13-48). The apostle Paul would, as an addendum, add his voice, exhorting the brethren, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). What is needed, then, is an exhibition of the life of Jesus to the lost world.
- The dying of Jesus - The crucifixion of Jesus was certainly a brutal death. Furthermore, His crucifixion may have been more brutal than most in view of the number of courts in which He was tried, and the number of beatings and scourgings along the way. When His separation from the Father as He bore the sins of the world is added in, then His was clearly the most brutal crucifixion in the history of the world. His remark concerning what it means to be a disciple of Christ then cannot be ignored: "Whoever does not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:27). Thus the apostle Paul, describing his suffering for the cause of Christ, uses the terminology "always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus." In this epistle, he goes on to point out, "For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’s sake" (2 Corinthians 4:11). The modern Christian really has to stop and process two things: 1) "I have been crucified with Christ," as Paul told the Galatians in 2:20, "and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me"; and 2) "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" from Philippians 1:21. Self is to be crucified so that all that remains is Christ. Furthermore, a Christian may be physically persecuted and experience physical death in the process of serving Christ. "Constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake" are the poignant words from the apostle’s pen.
- The life of Jesus - God’s goal is that saints be living representatives of Christ on earth, and the only way that can happen is for the saint to die to himself. This, of course, is easier said than done. Even of Jesus it was written, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). The disciple who will follow in the footsteps of Jesus likewise will learn obedience through suffering; hence, Paul connects the dying of self to living for Jesus. It thus makes sense that he would say "always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:10-11). The double emphasis clearly is that the Christian is the living representative of Jesus on earth, and is to govern himself accordingly.
The tricky question is how that life of Christ is to be manifested while the saint still carries his mortal flesh across the surface of planet earth. When things are going well in an earthly sense for the Christian, this does not really give him a great opportunity to show the distinction between him and a positive representative of the world. It is only when the suffering comes that the distinction between the saint and the sinner will be really obvious, as the true child of God refuses to back down from his principles or twist the testimony of scriptures to alleviate his suffering. The only way the life of Jesus can ultimately be manifested is in the exhibition of the positive manner in which the saints face persecution and death.
Bringing Others to Life
It is the testimony of Jesus given by scriptures which reaches into the world and rescues the lost. The goal is to reach the truth-seekers, the ones who will carefully analyze any testimony and who will challenge anything that seems to be unbelievable or out of order. One of the legitimate tests put to the apostles—the ones who first proclaimed that Jesus was raised from the dead—is whether they held to their testimony in the face of persecution and death. This is why, then, that Paul and others are described in his words as "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." They were delivered over to death, says the apostle, "that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." That life manifested is what brings life to the world. "So death works in us," he points out, "but life in you" (2 Corinthians 4:12).
- Faith required - It is comparatively easy to preach the gospel in what Paul called "in season," at a time where the gospel is expected to be preached. What is more difficult is to preach the gospel "out of season," when it might not be considered socially acceptable or in the face of a potentially hostile audience. What it takes under those conditions is faith, a biblically defined faith—a faith conscious that first and foremost God must be pleased. "But having the same spirit of faith," affirms the apostle, "according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore also we speak" (2 Corinthians 4:13). Failure to speak, or to speak lies or half-truths, is actually a demonstration of lack of faith. If we believe, we will speak the truth, regardless of earthly consequences; if we do not really believe, we will compromise in some way. It comes back, then, to a question of faith.
- Faith in a personal resurrection - One of the possibilities in preaching is that some sinners might turn to the Lord. Another possibility is that the person preaching may be persecuted or executed. The Christian delivering the message, suspecting that he may be executed as a result of the message, would have to believe in his own personal resurrection in order to continue along that line. "We speak," adverts the apostle Paul, "knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us to you" (2 Corinthians 4:14).
- Faith in Jesus’ resurrection - Faith in a personal resurrection is based on faith in Jesus’ resurrection. "If Christ has not been raised," was a comment from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian brethren, "your faith is worthless," and "those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (1 Corinthians 15:17-18). Therefore the testimony concerning Jesus’ resurrection has to be believed before a person can truly believe in his own future resurrection. "I believed, therefore I spoke."
The initial goal of preaching is to present the gospel of Christ to the lost, that they may be saved. Those who have some other goal will avoid the suffering that comes with preaching the true gospel of the glory of God; God always makes sure that the earthly reward of teaching the truth is not worth the suffering that goes with it. Therefore the apostle encourages the brethren, noting, "For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God" (II Corinthians 4:15). "Death works in us," he had carefully pointed out, "but life in you!" What thanks would be given for such grace! What abundance of praises would ascend to the loving and mighty God for making such a plan possible! How God would be glorified on earth and in the heavenly realms for the redemption of His people of faith!!
Consciousness in the Inner Man
The apostle Paul was excited that the gospel of Christ was spreading to more and more people in his day! But the cost to him and his fellow proclaimers was high. Persecuted, afflicted, and struck down, these men kept right on preaching and teaching the gospel of the glory of Christ, and those who obeyed the gospel were overjoyed at the grace of God which was brought to their lives. This joyful thanksgiving thus redounded to the glory of God, and Paul was able to share in their thanksgiving to God and their giving glory to His name.
- Not discouraged - In the face of such personal pain and persecution, the apostle is able to maintain a positive attitude. For the benefit of the Corinthian brethren, and for all those of later generations who would read this epistle, he states, "Therefore we do not lose heart" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Part of the reason for his not losing heart (being discouraged) is that the gospel is spreading to more and more people. But another factor is his focus.
- Renewal of the inner man - It is important to restress that there is an inner man, especially for the Christian. The outer man lives in the world of the tangible, where all the physical elements of existence with their challenges and appeals must be dealt with. Hence there is a constant consciousness of the issues that are pressing on the outer man. But with the inner man, it is different. Because the inner man cannot be detected by anything in the physical realm, the inner man can be forgotten or neglected; an "out of sight, out of mind" phenomenon develops. Not so with the apostle. He is conscious that "though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day." This is the type of revelation that an apostle would receive directly from the Holy Spirit. Without the information given in the scriptures, modern saints would not be able to say with precision that there is an outer man and that there is an inner man, that each individual consists of soul and spirit as well as possessing a body, that it is out of the heart of man that evil proceeds rather than something embedded in his flesh. The outer man, then, obviously decays, but the inner man is strengthened and renewed by God’s Holy Spirit on a daily basis! What a tremendous source of encouragement that is.
- Seeing correctly - Here is the apostle Paul, stoned and left for dead some fourteen years ago, encouraging the brethren to think about their inner man. Was his head still somewhat misshapen? Did he occasionally suffer migraines? Was his eyesight impacted? While we don’t know the answers to those questions, if those were issues he had to work through, we know what his focus was. His words can greatly help saints of this present time who must suffer persecution or physical ailments: "For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look—not at the things which are seen, but—at the things which are not seen" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). The things which are not seen are the things in the spiritual realm, the realm which can only be "seen" by the eye of faith as revealed in God’s holy word.
Part of the major purpose of God has been to produce a people "born from above" whose interest is in the things "unseen," whose interest is in the spiritual realm as contrasted to those whose interest is in the things of the flesh. Because they see with "unveiled face," they see the glory of God in the face of Christ and all that is connected with that. "The things which are seen," expounds the inspired apostle, "are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eternal." Properly processed, it is easy to see where the disciple of Christ should fix his attention.
This Old House
The outer man is decaying; there is no way to get out of this life alive in this mortal body (even the physical bodies of those alive at Jesus’ coming will be changed). This is an issue with which many people struggle. Over this writer’s lifetime, he has seen many of those who are clearly entering the last years of their earthly sojourn angry or frustrated over the fact that the body just isn’t going to get any better or any stronger. God, of course, mindful that we are but dust, is the One who offers the realistic perspective. His words, iterated through the apostle Paul, cannot be overstressed: "We do not lose heart—though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day." If the saint focuses on the realm of what he can see, which includes the decaying outer man, he will get very discouraged. The only positive solution for not losing heart is to continue to strengthen the non-decaying inner man.
- Nature of the earthly house - The word of God uses the word "tent" to describe the earthly body. Tents are temporary and comparatively fragile; hence the use of tent to describe the temporary housing of the eternal soul of man is not only descriptive but educational in that it helps the saint to understand the small value of that which is temporal. "For we know," avers the apostle Paul, "that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God—a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1). "Dust you are," the Maker had said to Adam, and thus to all Adam’s descendants, "and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 2:19). So this earthly house of dust, made of the chemicals from the ground, shall return to the disorganized basic chemicals in an action described as "tearing the house down." Because the flesh is part of the material universe, it is subject to all the laws of and vagaries of what we call nature: friction, gravity, momentum, disease, death, and decay. The Second Law of Thermodynamics guarantees that continued energy input is necessary to maintain a constant level, and much more energy is required for improvement. Hence, Paul notes, "For indeed in this house we groan..." (2 Corinthians 5:2). Again, he emphasizes, "For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened..." (2 Corinthians 5:4). If the only thing that the individual has is the earthly house, there is no real source of overcoming the groaning.
- The eternal house - There is therefore a tremendous contrast between the earthly house and that which is eternal. "We have a building from God," Paul has elucidated, "eternal in the heavens." Receiving the new resurrection body, for which we long, is described as being "clothed with our dwelling from heaven" (2 Corinthians 5:2). The contrast between the earthly tent and the eternal dwelling is so stark that Paul graphically says with regard to the resurrection body, "inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked" (2 Corinthians 5:3). Nakedness, not having yet the dwelling from heaven...!! Again, the apostle adds, "because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life" (2 Corinthians 5:4).
In many ways the word of God communicates that a major driving force for the Christian is his desire to share in the positive resurrection of the dead. "In this earthly house we groan," asseverates the apostle, contrasting that with our "longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven." "Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God," are Paul’s encouraging words, "who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge" (2 Corinthians 5:5). This indwelling Spirit, given at the saint’s immersion into Christ, is God’s guarantee that he will receive the positive resurrection from the dead. What better guarantee could there be?
Of Good Courage
People will pursue what they really want. Those who have been properly immersed into Christ will also pursue what they really want; hence the word of God continually exhorts them to want the things of eternal value. The scripture also has numerous warnings against deception, self-deception, and deluding influences. These are the ultimate in mind games, and they pull the attention of the Christian away from the importance of things eternal and into a destructive here-and-now focus. The apostle Paul therefore is working on the minds of the brethren in Corinth to get them to have the correct perception about their eternity and their eternal body. "We long to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven," is one of his instructive comments. "We want to be clothed [with our immortal body] in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life," is another. Then he makes this hugely important statement: "Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge." Having thus pointed out the purpose for the saint, the further comment is that God, on His part, gave the indwelling Spirit as His guarantee that He will grant the Christian the proper resurrection on the last day. This, then, for the disciple of Christ must be what he really wants.
- What we know - Because the saints of God know that the scripture can be proven to be true, and because Jesus is risen from the dead, they also know that they, if they remain faithful, will also receive the resurrection to eternal life. "Therefore, being always of good courage," asseverates the apostle, "and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord ..." (2 Corinthians 5:6). The child of God, born from above, rather than "losing heart" is always "of good courage," being upbeat regardless of earthly circumstances because he knows his eternity is secure.
- Walking by faith - All the great and eternal things are in the realm of the unseen, whereas the things of the realm of what may be seen are temporary. The Christian, to maintain his great attitude ("of good courage") cannot focus on the things of earth. If things of the flesh are his driving force, he sets his priorities on the earthly realm. The true saints, however, "walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). Because they "see Him who is unseen" as revealed in the scriptures, they have heavenly priorities and are not pulled down by the challenges of an earth that was cursed from the first.
- Preference - When the apostle Paul was caught up into Paradise, as he described it, he "heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak" (2 Corinthians 12:4). He also participated in what he called "the surpassing greatness of the revelations" (2 Corinthians 12:7). The conclusion that could be drawn is that Paul had been able to experience a little bit of Paradise and that even Paradise (still less than heaven) is awesomely wonderful. The result, then, is that Paul writes to the congregation in Corinth, saying, "We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). Every saint needs to process those words: it is better to be absent from the body and home with the Lord!
Twice in this context the apostle says, "we are of good courage." "In this house," he in contrast had stated, referring to the physical body, "we groan," because "in this house" he was subject to privation, persecution, prison, and pain. "Being of good courage" was what helped him through all those challenges. The good courage translated into having confidence in his own eventual resurrection to glory, as well as being able to have a great attitude in facing down all earthly vicissitudes. He thus serves as a model for modern Christians, if they will honestly process the information given them.
One of the goals of God’s scripture is to help God’s children exhibit positive attitudes through the trials life on earth presents to Christians. The word of God, therefore, paints the proper pictures for the saint so that he can align his priorities and his perspectives accordingly. Earthly life is short, just a vapor; eternity is a long, long time—forever! This basic truth, of course, would not be known to the sons of man unless it were given in scripture, and the saint must really believe it is true. Hence, walking by faith in what the word of God says—rather than by making decisions based only on what may be seen in the material, temporal realm—involves believing in the promises of scripture through Christ in order to receive the proper resurrection body. In fact, God prepared "us for this very purpose." The disciple of Christ, therefore, is always of good courage" and prefers to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord in Paradise.
- Our ambition - The earnest desire of the true follower of Christ is to attain to the proper resurrection from the dead. When the truthfulness of the scripture is recognized, then the difference between an eternity in heaven and an eternity in hell becomes a stark governing factor in the Christian’s life, and he is repentantly altering his life so that the Lord will say to him on the last day, "Well done, good and faithful slave." "Therefore," concludes the apostle Paul in his reasoning process, "we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him" (2 Corinthians 5:9). The driving ambition that the saint must have, powering past his time in the body and to his home in Paradise with the Lord, is to be pleasing to God. All other ambitions must be set aside.
- Judgment Day - God has fixed a Day of Judgment, Paul informed the mob on Mars Hill, and proved that this event will happen by establishing the truthfulness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Christians are not exempt from facing this judgment either. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ," emphasizes the apostle, "that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). There are no exceptions: all will appear before the judgment throne of Christ, and all will give an accounting of what they actually did in the body (not what they said they were going to do). For the non-Christian, this will be a terrifying event as his unrighteous acts and his failure to do the right thing are on display before the Almighty. "Hallelujah!" will be the shout of heaven’s voices, because God’s "judgments are true and righteous" (Revelation 19:1-2). By contrast, it will be a time of tremendous blessing for the saint on Judgment Day. Any transgressions of his against the Lord will have been blotted out, as was quoted by Hebrews’ author: "I will remember their sins no more" (Hebrews 8:12). The only things that will be on the record are the works of faith, the creative good deeds honestly performed to advance God’s kingdom.
The Christian’s intelligent ambition truly is to be pleasing to the Lord. He wishes to avoid the fires of hell on the negative side, and on the positive side he really wants God to be glorified and multitudes of souls saved. "Hallelujah!," again shouts the great chorus of heaven. "The fine linen," the clothing of the bride of Christ, who made herself ready for the return of the Bridegroom, "is the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:6-8). "Blessed," indeed "are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). The wisdom of God says to make getting an invitation to that marriage supper your highest ambition!
A perusal of the gospel accounts shows Jesus’ tremendous drive to reach the sons of men. When the crowds got too thick and people were coming only for healing, Jesus would leave. "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also," explained He to major multitudes in the region of Capernaum who wanted all His continuing attention, "for I was sent for this purpose." The inspired commentary of Luke adds: "And He kept on preaching in the synagogues of the country of the Jews" (Luke 4:43-44). The driving force for Jesus’ intense desire to preach was His love for each person, and His earnest desire to help them develop the faith that would save them from the fires of hell. By His own rules He could not save them apart from their own willing participation. Hence, He reasoned and persuaded in the synagogues and performed miracles, trying to get His own people to recognize that He was the Christ, the Son of God.
- The fear of the Lord - The apostle Paul was also conscious of the coming judgment of God upon the sinfulness of men. He had reminded the Corinthian brethren that all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to be recompensed for the deeds done in the body. The apostle also knew what the outcome of that judgment would be. "For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law," he had explained to the church in Rome, "and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law" (Romans 2:12). To be judged by the Law also means to perish, unless the person has kept it perfectly. The only escape from the fires of hell is for the individual to come under the blood of Jesus Christ. The individual, then, must be taught—he must become a disciple—the basics of the plan of God and how the gospel will apply to him on a personal basis. The disciple-maker is therefore very conscious that eternal life or eternal punishment awaits the member of the human race for whom he is presenting the word of God. "Knowing therefore the fear [terror] of the Lord," affirms Paul, "we persuade men" (2 Corinthians 5:11).
- Manifest to others’ consciences - Words alone do not necessarily convince other people. If the supposed saint has attitudes or moral issues that are inconsistent with the message he is preaching, people will naturally and rightly reject the message; they expect to see a reasonable level of consistency. One good example of this consistency was Stephen. When the intensely Jewish men of the Synagogue of the Freedmen "rose up and argued with Stephen, they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking" (Acts 6:9-10). But not only is this character to be known to men, but clearly must be demonstrated to God also. "We persuade men," is Paul’s annotation, "but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences" (2 Corinthians 5:11). The inner man is known to God; the outer man is read by men.
Once the individual has been persuaded concerning Jesus the Son of God and has obeyed the gospel, the reasoning and persuading work must continue to go on so that he will not lose his salvation. Paul therefore appends, "We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance, and not in heart" (2 Corinthians 5:12). The apostle and others who worked with him in the great work of persuading the lost and strengthening the brethren were Christian men of "substance" rather than exhibitions of "show." The congregation in Corinth could point out these men with the proper kind of pride, giving those with whom they were working examples of saints who had overcome sin and who were walking in the steps of Jesus. Knowing the terror of the Lord, they did indeed persuade men!
Crazy for Christ?
Paul’s life was on display for all the lost and all the saved in Corinth. When he stated, "I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences," he was giving permission for others to examine his life and conduct. He had stated that he was not one who took pride in appearance; rather, he wanted people to look deeper to see the substance that was there as contrasted to the "show" that characterizes so many who would claim to be promulgators of the gospel. Because Paul was an "open book," and because he was straight-forward and honest, he was often accused of being crazy. As he was concluding his testimony before King Agrippa and the Roman governor Porcius Festus, the governor found himself crying out, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad!" (Acts 26:24). From the governor down the lowest slave, there were those who thought he was crazy—especially crazy to suffer so much for the gospel for so little earthly gain.
- For the Corinthian brethren - The apostle knows he is not out of his mind; he has seen Jesus his Lord by revelation—risen and glorified! He knows that he utters words of sober truth. But he is willing to be poorly regarded in order that the good news connected with Christ might continue to move forward. "For if we are beside ourselves," he helps the brethren in Corinth put things in the right perspective, "it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you" (2 Corinthians 5:13). Anything that might be attributed to a little craziness, direct that toward God. Anything that might be sensible, accept that as a blessing to the saints.
- Controlling influence - The inspired record shows that the apostle Paul was a man driven hard to preach and teach the gospel, and his honest concern for the eternity of each person would have been obvious to any objective observer. "For the love of Christ controls us," he comments, "having concluded this, that One died for all, therefore all died" (2 Corinthians 5:14). The system of law tries to impose external controls on the individual, but, as Paul pointed out, they are "of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:23). There are those who propose systems of mutual accountability, but once again those are easy to skirt around. The only thing that will work is for "the love of Christ" to control us! Christ Himself left heaven as the great Apostle and High Priest of our confession for one purpose: to seek and to save that which was lost. That love controlled Him to the point that He would willingly come to Golgotha’s ground, and willingly die for all. He needed no external controls; He knew His steadfast adherence to what was right and true and good was absolutely necessary to rescue mankind from the grips of the prince of darkness. The apostle Paul thus concludes the same thing: he is therefore controlled by that same love to do what is right and true and good, and willing to be counted crazy or even to die that others might live eternally.
- Living for Jesus - Jesus died for all. Therefore, it is not overly demanding that all who would follow in the footsteps of their Master would also die. "And He died for all," the apostle continues the thought, "that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:15). Properly processed, these words will change the life of every saint who is willing to act on them!
By definition those whose minds are focused on the flesh are also focused on the things of earth. The earthly mindset, then, would be to "get what you can while you can." The exhortation coming from Paul and the Holy Spirit is to no longer live for yourself. Die to yourself. Live for Jesus. Crazy to the world!!
Basis for the New Creation
There are a number of principles connected with Christianity that can be challenging to implement. Mankind comes into the world crying for milk and attention; but in Christ that is to be set aside: those who live in Christ should no longer "live for themselves." After years of being trained by earth’s circumstances for survival of self, the new spiritual order calls for disciples of Christ to alter their perspectives and mental habits so that they live "for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." This requires some regular and serious contemplation as the saint sets priorities and determines whether time will be spent on pleasure or on the spread of the word of God. How the follower of Christ views other people is also on the line—are they lost souls in need of the saving gospel, or are they tools to be used?
- Recognition - In the realm of earthly life, men in general make arbitrary distinctions as to a person’s value or status. At one point, Jesus explained, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them" (Matthew 20:25). So it is in the affairs of mankind: male and female, they scramble for earthly position, sometimes attained and maintained by the force of arms. Thus the higher the position, they reason, the higher the value. But what saith the Lord in His instructions to the saints? "Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16). The value of the individual is based first of all on the fact that God created man in His image and its conclusion that all men are created equal, and secondly that Christ died for all. Outside of Christ, it does not matter whether he be a pauper or a prince, he is desperate need of salvation. Inside of Christ, it does not matter whether he be a master or a slave, he is valued as a member of the body of Christ and integrally important to it. "Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh," is Paul’s continuation, "yet now we know Him thus no longer." To have seen the great King in the flesh would have been seeing the greatest person possible in the flesh; menacing monarchs, big bankers, and twisted tycoons are as nothing compared the visible appearance of His Majestic Glory. But it is not Christ in the flesh who is; it is Christ in the Spirit reigning on the eternal throne who is the One whom the brethren know. The conclusion to be drawn is that disciples of Christ view others from a spiritual perspective rather than measuring people from a worldly point of view.
- In Christ - When the lost sinner comes to Christ on Christ’s terms, the old life and the old sins are left behind. "Therefore if any man is in Christ," Paul adverts, "he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). A person’s "kingliness" or "kinkiness" got buried in the waters when he was immersed into Christ (which is the only way to enter into Christ). What was done away with is not the major emphasis here; what is of major value is what came forth by the power of God.
The faithful follower of Christ thus needs to see with "spiritual eyes" rather than with eyes of the flesh. What a person’s standing is in the world is not any part of the calculation of what a person’s standing is in Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek," was Paul’s conclusion on this point in another letter, "there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Even though Christ Himself was in the flesh, He is seen and known by the saints as He is in the spiritual realm. Based on that, Christians likewise view their brethren in Christ as new creatures, with no carry over from what they were in the flesh.
Power of the New Creation
The "Jesus who is" is the Jesus who is seated at the right hand of power on high. As awesome as Jesus was during the days of His earthly sojourning, He had voluntarily emptied Himself and placed Himself a little lower than the angels for the benefit of the souls of men. Jesus in glory, then, is much more awesome than Jesus in the flesh could have been. Paul, in writing to the brethren in Corinth, has carefully lined up his points of reasoning: 1) Christ died for all, therefore all died; 2) those who therefore live because of Christ should no longer live for themselves; 3) they then should live for Him who not only died but who rose again on their behalf; 4) even though the apostles had known Christ in the flesh, that is not who He is now and how He is to be known now; 5) if a person is in Christ, he is a new creation and is to be known by who he is in Christ.
- Old things passed away - Christ died so that the old sinful self could be buried with Him. This is hugely powerful and is to be strongly and repeatedly impinged on the mind of the brother who is forgiven through this process, and also strongly and repeatedly impinged on the minds of those who are interacting with this brother in Christ. "The old things are passed away," states the inspired apostle. Not only are all sins forgiven and the past gone, but the old self is also obliterated (buried). If it is buried, then it no longer exists. This dovetails with the encouraging and life-giving words of Paul to the brethren in Colossae: "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).
- New things have come - Although there is tremendous power in elimination of the old self, that is getting rid of a problem but not providing a solution. The excessively great power is found in the surrounding words: if any person be in Christ, he is a new creation; and that new things have come. The new creation is not simply the "old creation" forgiven; God actually performed an entirely new creative act in the inner man, in the realm not seen by physical eye. This new creation is something more than "mere man," a next step up from man in the flesh. Remade in the image of Christ in glory, this new creature is capable of walking in the footsteps of Christ and carrying the torch of the gospel for spiritual victory.
But for the power connected with being a new creature in Christ to become operative, the "born from above" child of God needs to renew or reprogram his mind. "In reference to your former manner of life," Paul had instructed the brethren in Ephesus, "lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Ephesians 4:22-24). God does "the heavy lifting," but He doesn’t do all the lifting. The loving Father expects His children of faith to be active in their salvation and transformation. Hence the apostle would also write, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).
This new creation is prepared for spiritual warfare: warfare against any personal lusts of the flesh or of the mind, and warfare in taking the gospel into a hostile and alien world. As the prophet Ezekiel looked to future saints (from his perspective) coming up out of the watery graves of their immersions and being given the indwelling Spirit of God, he saw that "they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army" (Ezekiel 37:10). Not only stand your ground, fellow new creation, but conquer the next section of the devil’s domain, planting the triumph flag of Christ on new territory!
Comments about Reconciliation
The earnest desire of the loving heavenly Father is to have a true relationship with His children, specifically His children of faith. The perspective of heaven is that even one sin is a major transgression and the just punishment is eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Another way of looking at the issue is that the goodness of God simply cannot fellowship with sin. Hence, as soon as possible, the devil and his angels were cast into Tartarus, and eventually will end up in gehenna, which as Jesus stated is the hellfire "which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Such is the penalty for Satan’s sin. The inspired record is very clear that God cannot countenance sin, nor fellowship with sinners. Jesus, in His high priestly position, is described as "holy, innocent, undefiled, and separated from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). Thus each of the race of men who have committed sin will also find their end in that same hellfire, unless he is reconciled to the Father.
- Tremendous gifts - The all-powerful God has made it possible for sinful man to undergo a spiritual new birth and to become a totally new creature on the inside. The decaying outer man is still the same and part of the material creation, but the inner man has been made new. Part of the process is for the "old things" to pass away, and for the powerful "new things" to come into existence. These gifts and truths are immeasurably great, and the power involved is beyond comprehension.
- Gifts from God - The plan and purpose of God were set in motion before the universe was created. Jesus, in His redemptive ministry, is described thusly, "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you" (1 Peter 1:20). Paul, then, building upon the point of God’s graciousness in having the old things replaced by powerful new things, affirms, "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:18). Since the person made himself an enemy of God though his own personal sin, and since it is impossible for anyone to make amends for such sin, the effort at reconciliation and the price for past iniquity are initiated and paid for by God. The effort here on behalf of such reconciliation is again beyond human comprehension. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself," the apostle expounds, "not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). As noted, the price for the transgressions of the world was high: "He made Him who knew no sin to be made sin on our behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Do not minimize this price!!
- Ministry of reconciliation - If reconciliation is possible but no one knows about it, the effort is wasted. Thus the news of God’s effort to have man reconciled to Himself requires a team that spreads the word of God’s magnanimous attempt to reach out to man. So God’s gifts not only include the price and power, but providing for the outreach team. As the apostle Paul puts it, God "gave us the ministry of reconciliation." He further emphasizes, "He has committed to us the word of reconciliation." This team of messengers, although generally not thought of in these terms, is also a gift from God.
God has no need to show mercy or compassion to man. But His desire for true companionship is such that He has been willing to offer Christ as the redemptive price and set in motion the possibility of such reconciliation. But this fellowship with the Almighty is not something that can be attained by what Paul elsewhere calls "mere man." He must be obedient to the gospel of Christ, reconciled to God, raised from the waters of immersion, and thus "born from above." Only those who are "born from above" can be in fellowship with Him who "is from above." Reconciliation clears the way for such a new birth, and hence such awesome fellowship.
Ambassadors for Christ
The uneducated man, in the realm of true spiritual things, does not know that he needs to be reconciled to God. Hence the Almighty and All-loving goes through much effort and much communication to show the individual his dreadful state if he appears before God on judgment day in an unredeemed condition. Working through the nation Israel, which He brought into existence and preserved by miraculous means, He defines sin. As the revelation, safely and divinely preserved in the sacred scrolls, continued to increase, it became clear that some sort of sacrifice was necessary to rescue man from the pit of sin. "Without the shedding of blood," the writer of Hebrews summed up, "there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). All the elements of the sacrificial system pointed to the eventual death of Jesus on the cross, the Lamb of God offering Himself for the sins of mankind. "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree," was Peter’s clarifying contribution (1 Peter 2:24). Finally, Jesus in His ascension becomes the great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, and sprinkles spiritual blood in the spiritual tabernacle, that full redemption might be available for any who would obey the gospel. What an effort expended by the loving heavenly Father!!
- The ministry of reconciliation - If someone has an apartment for rent, but no one knows of its availability, how will it be rented out? If God’s redemption of mankind has been accomplished, but no notice has been sent out, what benefit will be derived? Thus God has set in motion what He calls "the ministry of reconciliation." The message of God’s willingness to welcome formerly wayward men back into His fellowship originated with Jesus in heaven, but it was initially preached on earth by the apostles of Christ. As the apostle Paul noted, "He has committed to us the word of reconciliation." By the commission of Jesus Christ, given as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, the ministry of reconciliation is extended to all future disciples of Christ, the terms being first given by the apostles of Jesus Christ.
- Ambassadors for Christ - Because the reconciliation is going to be accomplished on the basis of a scripturally defined faith possessed by the wayward petitioner, the message is going to be delivered by one human being to another. If Jesus were to deliver the message personally, that would destroy key elements of the necessary faith. If the word of reconciliation were delivered by angels, that would too overpowering for the delicate balance required for honest faith and redemption. By God’s intelligent plan, the message begins to communicated to the race of men by specially tested and chosen men, the apostles of the Lord. "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ," Paul informs us, "as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). It is highly significant that the great God earnestly desires restored fellowship with His separated and lost children—kids that He had to "boot out of the house" because they would not keep house rules. He is so earnest that He is described as being in a position of "begging"! That is commitment and humility on His part.
- The trade off - The righteous God, who cannot have fellowship with or countenance sin, is willing to proffer a tremendous trade off in His efforts to make it possible for any willing person to participate in His plan for reconciliation. "He made Him who knew no sin," Paul comments, concerning what Christ went through on behalf of the lost, "to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). The magnitude of this exchange is really unfathomable: He was willing to take our sins on Himself, and replace those with His righteousness!
The love of God for each lost sheep is certainly displayed in His desire for reconciliation, and the lengths through which He has gone to make that reconciliation possible. No wonder, then, the value He puts on fellowshiping with His children in the Lord’s Supper. No wonder, also, for the description of His wrath to be executed on those who reject His magnificent offer of reconciliation. "We beg you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God!"
Begging Extended to Urging
"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," was one of Paul’s exordiums. Salvation is not a one-time "saved and cannot be lost" issue. Thus the word of God is full of warnings about falling away, being deceived by false prophets, and being sucked in by the world. The bottom line is that God has done so much to reconcile man to Himself that He is not willing to compromise on the necessity of the individual’s continuing faith in order for his salvation to be secure. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf," is the way the apostle recorded the effort on God’s part, "that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." God rightfully expects the saint to lay aside the old self and the old way of life and to grow sufficiently in grace and knowledge that he walks in the footsteps of Christ.
- God’s grace not in vain - The apostle had talked about the awesomeness of God’s willingness to establish fellowship with man through the redemption available through Jesus. The call, as phrased by Paul in this epistle, is, "We beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." Once the initial invitation is tendered and accepted in obedience to the gospel, then more exhortation is necessary for the saints to keep their faith intact and growing. "And working together with Him," speaks the apostle in reference to his partnership with God in proclaiming the gospel and teaching the saved, "we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1). Nothing could be more empty (vain) than an individual’s once having salvation, and then turning away from it. The wording is strong: we urge you!
- The acceptable time - When should a lost-and-damned-to-hell sinner turn to God? When should the saint who has wandered off "the strait and narrow" get himself back on track? The answer is the same for both: "At an acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you." The apostle, pulled this quote from the prophet Isaiah to point to the right day and the right time. "Behold," he shouts, "now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). The sinner is one heartbeat away from an eternity in a black, painful, Christ-less hell! When should he turn to God on God’s terms? NOW! The saint who has been pulled back into the ways of the world or who is still engaged in the childish activities of creating strife, fomenting factions, or stuck in jealousy is only one heartbeat away from an eternity in a black, painful, Christ-less hell! When should he turn back to God on God’s terms? NOW! The only day that currently exists is today; the only time that currently exists is now. The question of the day, then, is this: what part of N.......O.......W do you not understand?
The efforts of God to reach out to man must not be minimized. He is under no obligation other than His great love for each person to extend the possibility of redemption. These all flow from the system of thought comprising the new covenant, often given the title grace. Paul, preacher of the gospel and one who laid down his life that others might experience eternity in glory, is not desirous that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Hence he took the word of God to the lost, opening new vistas for the spread of the message of Christ. He also took great pains, as exhibited in his letters, to keep the saved on track. In either case, the sincerity and intensity of his appeal rings out: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." Hear the message, heed the instructions, and hold on for all eternity!
What it Takes
God’s army is an all-volunteer army. There is no conscription, and the soldier can call off his enlistment at any time. Not enlisting in the first place, or bailing out from the long-term commitment will result in the individual’s being cast into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, prepared for the enemies of God. So the call is issued: do not receive the grace of God in vain. The volunteers, then, in this army are in partnership with God. They are members strategically placed by the Father Himself for the execution of His warfare against the forces of darkness and for the spread of His gospel and the consequent salvation of souls. Paul thus reminds the brethren of this in these words: working together with Him!
- No cause for offense - The gospel of Christ is carried effectively by men and women of good character, men and women who come out the darkness and exhibit the fruit of light. Building off his statement of working together with the Father, he adds, "giving no offense in anything, in order that the ministry be not be discredited" (2 Corinthians 6:3). If a Christian gossips, that discredits the ministry. If a saint engages in profanity, that gives offense because it is counter to the message of righteousness that the individual is purporting to proclaim. This is certainly worthy of consideration by each disciple of Christ who earnestly desires that others be saved.
- Servants of God - Having commented on the negative side, the apostle then sets forth the positive picture. Rather than having the ministry of reconciliation be discredited, he writes that the brethren should be "in everything commending ourselves as servants of God" (2 Corinthians 6:4). The conduct of the saint should be exemplary in all aspects, that the gospel of Christ might have maximum positive impact. The first martyr for the faith, Stephen, is recorded as having demonstrated the proper comport when approached by the clearly hostile men of the synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem. These men, recorded the sacred word, "rose up and argued with Stephen." So how did these representatives of the law system fare against him who was voluntarily governed by the principles of the new covenant? "Yet they were unable to cope with the wisdom and Spirit with which he was speaking" (Acts 6:9-10). Modern saints will do well to imitate such a great example!
- Some challenges to be overcome - From the beginning of the church, there were those who were enemies of the cross of Christ. Stephen, of course, an afoul of such, and paid the earthly penalty of martyrdom. Paul thus warns the brethren about some of the challenges they are to face in commending themselves to the world as servants of God. The first item which shows up on his list is the need of "much endurance." Not only are there challenging issues in the physical realm in carrying the gospel across the mountain range or braving the elements to get the gospel across the street, but there are the difficulties in dealing with people. Often much time and repetitive effort is required in helping people through the mental objections they have against obeying the gospel. Next on his inspired list is "in afflictions." Sometimes the afflictions are physical, as in being spit upon. Other times they are more verbal, as in the saint’s facing the reviling and ridicule of men. This is followed by "in hardships." The gospel needs to be carried through heat, sleet, rain, and snow. No matter the road conditions, no matter the lack of sufficient provisions, the carrier needs to go on and deliver the message. "In distresses," follows the previously mentioned issues. Flat tires, scheduling difficulties, miscommunications, blizzard conditions, hydroplaning on the roads, traffic issues, and mechanical difficulties are often encountered by those who bring the message of light into a world of darkness.
"Commending ourselves as servants of God," says Paul, "in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses" is what the soldiers of faith go through, and they do it with great attitudes. This is what it takes. Carry on!!
The List Goes On
The lives of the apostles, measured from an earthly perspective, were hard. They were chosen by the Lord Jesus Himself, and He knew what they were going to endure for His name’s sake. When James and John approached the Lord about the possibility of their sitting at His right and left hand in the coming kingdom, He asked them a very probing question. "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be immersed with the immersion with which I am immersed?" (Mark 10:38). Their glib answer was quick in coming: "We are able." The cup that He was about to drink (or His "immersion" as He spoke of it) was His upcoming suffering. The chief priests and the scribes, said He, would condemn the Son of Man to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles. "And they will mock Him and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again" (Mark 10:34). They obviously were not hearing Him very well!! This, then, serves as the backdrop for the apostle Paul’s continuing comments about what he, the other apostles, and ultimately other Christians go through.
- Body tested to the maximum - Having previously pointed out some of the privations under which he and the others were able to commend themselves as servants to God, the apostle extended the list. "In beatings," he states, remembering some the responses he had received from sundry synagogues along the way. "In imprisonments," is another of his summary listings, without going into the details of how many times that had happened. "In tumults," he also recalled the various riots that had broken out in connection with the presentation of the gospel to audiences that turned hostile. "In labors," is his mention of the countless rounds of studying the scripture with the lost and his traveling to preach from synagogue to synagogue and house to house. "In sleeplessness," is his recollection of those nights of travel on foot from place to place, the all night trials, or the all night preaching and teaching sessions. "In hunger," he notes, also recalling some of those times when circumstances prevented him from being able to have a meal, or in places where no food was available at the time. And all this to be a simple, humble servant of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 6:5)
- Personal positive qualities - Without the exhibition of the positive qualities of Christ His Lord, Paul would not have been effective in reaching truth-seekers. For such truth-seekers, who are the ones the gospel is designed to find and separate from those who are not, the life must match the words being spoken. "In purity," he points out, concerning the nature of the motives he and other fellow faithful proclaimers exhibited to the sinners and the saints. "In knowledge," he adds to the stack, conscious that without an in-depth knowledge of both the old and new covenants and their relationship to Jesus, he would not have had the power to turn people from darkness to light. "In patience," he brings forth as a salient point, because in working with members of the human race and those who have been called out of the world, great patience is an absolute necessity. "In kindness," he calls to the fore, recognizing that superior awareness and thoughtfulness in working with and understanding people is key to communicating the awesomeness of the good news. "In the Holy Spirit," he says, knowing that he had to have the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and attendant miracles to accomplish God’s purpose. "In genuine love," he superadds, knowing that God’s love for lost man is the deep driving force to keep on preaching. (2 Corinthians 6:6)
Paul wants to be commended as a servant of Christ. He does not want the ministry discredited. He wants to be of no real offense to those seeking the truth. Hence he is putting together this list of requisites to meet these goals effectively. May modern saints be able to implement these as well.
And the List Goes On
All the faithful apostles made their original choice to follow truth. A bit of reflection will establish that they all were disciples of John the Immerser prior to being selected to be special envoys of Christ. In that setting, the Lord had stated, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear much fruit, and that your fruit should remain" (John 15:16). They indeed were worthy, as Jesus Himself noted following the exit of Judas from the assembly of those apostles at the institution of the Lord’s Supper: "You are those who have stood by Me in My trials" (Luke 22:28). The apostle Paul was of the same type of character once he turned to the Lord, and equally committed to the "bearing of much fruit" regardless of what he had to suffer in the process. But he never lost his great attitude and proper perspective on things eternal.
- Spiritual strength - Because "now" is the day of salvation, and because "now" is the acceptable time, the apostle did not want to do anything that would discredit the ministry of reconciliation. Having listed a series of privations which he and the other apostles faced in distributing the precious gospel of salvation, and mentioning the positive exhibitions of character necessary for their continued progress, he brings in another category: "in the word of truth," he puts forth, as an obviously clear foundation for preaching and teaching. All the other doctrines and all the other religions are based on the word of falsehood! "In the power of God," is the next key point he brings to the fore. A brief overview of Paul’s life and effectiveness clearly establishes that what he accomplished, he accomplished not only with his own initiative and drive but with the backing and the power of God. "By the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left," he emphasizes (2 Corinthians 6:7). Using weapons and righteousness in the same phrase may seem incongruous. The bottom line fact never to be forgotten is that saints are involved in a tremendously brutal and ongoing spiritual war, and that war must be fought with all effort and all urgency. It is in fact righteousness which wages war against unrighteousness, and this is why the apostle refers to his having "weapons" of righteousness in both hands as he engages in hand-to-hand combat against spiritual adversaries.
- Who to believe? - Anything important is controversial; if it is not important, no one would fight over it. And the most important thing going on this planet is the proclamation of the gospel, the means by which the lost are saved and by which the saved are conserved. The devil, therefore, and those on his side are going to do everything possible to discredit true preachers and true preachings. This was certainly true of the apostles, whom Paul describes as making their mark "by glory and dishonor." Those who heard and believed were so tremendously thankful for the message and the suffering it took to get the message to them that they would rightly give glory to men such as Paul. But dishonor would be heaped on their heads by enemies of God and the gospel. Similarly, "evil report and good report" would spread concerning them. "Regarded as deceivers" is part of the landscape, "and yet true" to the word of their God was their character. "As unknown," because the world would not want to give them any publicity or acknowledgment, "and yet well-known" by the community of believers who trusted and appreciated their words and compassion (2 Corinthians 6:8-9).
Because of the nature and ferocity of the spiritual battle, these men ultimately would have to know that their goal was to make the Father happy. "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?" Paul asked the Galatian brethren. "Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). Let us, then, pick up those weapons of righteousness, and fight the spiritual battle in such a way that it pleases the Lord!
Finishing with a Crescendo
"The thief," averred Jesus the Christ, "comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10). While a person might have all sorts of vain imaginings as to what that abundant life might look like, the actual demonstration of that abundant life is exhibited in the lives of the apostles. To those who look for the abundant life to be filled with comfort, toys, and goodies, that exhibition is going to be a major disappointment. But when viewed from the perspective of positive impact on people’s lives and eternities, and having a powerful purpose that will live on and on, the apostles of Jesus Christ are the supreme exhibition of making the most of earthly time and experiencing the true joy of the Lord. "By this is My Father glorified," Jesus had stated, "that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:8). The highest end of a true disciple of the Lord is to glorify Him, and "bearing much fruit" is how that is done. The Lord also pointed out one of His purposes, noting, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (John 15:11). The apostles, then, are the exhibitions of those who lived the abundant life, who glorified the Lord in making many disciples, and who experienced the true joy of the Lord—all in spite of the tremendous earthly difficulties they experienced.
- Above circumstances - Paul’s goal was that the ministry of reconciliation go forward. He did not want any personal weakness to be a hindrance to the ministry, nor did he want challenges and difficulties to slow that message down. The next thing on his list of apparent paradoxes is his description of himself and the other apostles as "as dying, yet behold, we live" (2 Corinthians 6:9). Their bodies were pushed to the extremities of earthly existence, yet their spirituality was intact and positive. The apostle also adds that their condition could be described "as punished, yet not put to death." Jailed and beaten, they were still kept alive on earth until God determined that they had run their course.
- Abundant living - In the midst of the vagaries of their earthly sojourns, the apostles maintained great attitudes. When dealing with the rejection of the gospel by most who chose the broad way, they were "sorrowful," yet because of their own personal focus on Christ in glory, they were "always rejoicing" (II Corinthians 6:10). They were "poor" in the sense that they had minimum earthly possessions, "yet making many rich" in that those who obeyed the gospel were blessed "with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). The apostles are also described in parallel fashion "as having nothing yet possessing all things." Everything they needed in the physical world would be provided to them in order for them to carry out their assigned mission as apostles of Jesus Christ. If Paul required a ship to get the saints’ offering from the Gentile congregations to Jerusalem, that ship would be available. If it was necessary for Paul to get to Rome, he would go at government expense (in chains, but he arrived safely). What a life, to brave so many dangers, and yet to have such a reward in seeing the church of the Lord come off "the ground floor" and to see the salvation of so many eternal souls!
The inspired partial record of the apostles and their accomplishments leaves a legacy of triumph and victory that continues to call aspiring saints to higher levels of spirituality and action. Their lives, depicted in language such as "in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses," pictured as armed with "the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left," "regarded as deceivers yet true," and "as dying, yet we live" call modern saints to emulate their spiritual power and character. Each of them finished their lives with a crescendo, despised on earth but going out in a blaze of glory. May the brethren of today similarly power on through whatever challenges the future brings, and carry the torch of the victorious gospel onward!
Openness to the Corinthians
Paul had emphasized that he had no secrets, that he had nothing hidden because of shame. His concern, then, was that the Corinthian brethren were still hiding some of their moral and doctrinal problems from him, and that some had hidden agendas in subtly working against the gospel. "We are ambassadors for Christ," he had stated, and as such issued the appeal, "we beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." That is an interesting appeal, considering that he is writing to Christians. The goal of God was clearly stated, "that we might become the righteousness of God." The follow up comment was stated thusly, "we urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." His desire, therefore, was that they open up to him so that he could help them on their journey of faith.
- Free and open - The apostle Paul had been the one who started the congregation in Corinth. He had faced ridicule and trial from the Jews, and had immersed the first converts in the city. He had repeatedly indicated how much he cared for the congregation as a whole, and pointed out his intense concern for each soul. At this point in this letter, he has shown his transparency before the brethren, and is therefore positioned to make his appeal. "Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart has opened wide" (2 Corinthians 6:11). The apostle, laboring intensely for their eternal souls, has led the way in openness, attempting to get them to open up to him and therefore beginning to be open before God. Only by being open and honest before God could the saints in Corinth then begin to make progress in laying aside their old selves and putting on their new selves.
- Source of restraint - Paul averred that he and the others with him had not given any offense to discredit their ministry; rather, he had a long list showing how they had commended themselves as servants of God to the congregation. "You are not restrained by us," he then points out to the brethren, "but you are restrained in your own affections" (2 Corinthians 6:12). Judging by the things mentioned in this epistle, there are many undercurrents still lurking under the surface waters of this local church. When those things are in operation, the charges are often brought against the visible representatives of God’s word (in this case the apostle Paul), charges that they are tyrannical and unfeeling. Paul here points out that the barrier in affections is on their side and not his.
- The appeal - In securing the redemption of the world, Jesus took the first step. He offered His life as a demonstration of His love for the lost, and opened the possibility of anyone’s desiring reconciliation to be able to participate, on Jesus’ terms. In so doing, He also demonstrated how His followers were to work through difficulties in relationships with the lost and with struggling saints—take the first step! Lest there be any confusion, the apostle has patiently listed what he went through in taking the first step of getting the gospel to these Christians, and his willingness to take another step in the way in which he writes this epistle. "Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children," remarks he, "open wide to us" (2 Corinthians 6:13).
This is very interesting wording: "I speak as to children!" The picture is that of an older person’s trying to get a small child to open his mouth for the last bite of vegetables. The person of influence in the situation often opens his mouth in demonstration and encouragement to the child so that the child will open his mouth in like manner (the last bite of vegetables goes "down the hatch," and all is well). In this same manner, in the spiritual realm, the apostle had demonstrated his openness to the "children" in Corinth, that they might really open themselves up to the instruction which the apostle was freely offering them.
Need for Serious Separation
The scripture is replete with warnings about the attacks from Satan which will destroy the saint’s salvation. Some of Satan’s ploys are open, such as intimidation and persecution. Some are more subtle, such as craftily sneaking in false doctrine. But one of the most powerful and not easily seen methods of the prince of darkness is influence and pressure from friends, family, and associates. "Do not be deceived," the apostle Paul had warned the Corinthians in his first epistle, pointing out how easily this deception can worm its way in. "Bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33). People end up being deceived because there is a hidden part of them that is open to participating in the deception. Hence these warnings are severe and repeated in God’s holy word.
- Bound together - There is a danger in being locked in to marriage relationships, business partnerships, contracts, and the like. These are situations in which it can be very difficult or nearly impossible for a person to extricate himself. Once a person is a drug dealer doing business with the "bigger fish," he is not easily going to be able to break those bonds because "he knows too much"; they will not let him go. Once a person is working for the Central Intelligence Agency and/or similar government operations, he is not easily going to be able to break those bonds because "he knows too much"; they will not let him go. "Do not be bound together [unequally yoked] to unbelievers," is Paul’s exhortation. "For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness" (2 Corinthians 6:14). The answer to those two related questions obviously is "None!" These are clear warnings for Christians about entering into some of these personal and business relationships.
- Further questions - One of the things that stands out as Paul is throwing these questions out to the brethren in Corinth is that many of them were struggling with some of the pulls of the world, of the environment around them. "Or what harmony has Christ with Belial?" the apostle queries. "Belial" is another name for the devil, and of course there is no harmony there. "Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?" (2 Corinthians 6:15). This is interesting because a clear corollary is that there is as much in common between Christ and the devil as there is between a Christian and a non-Christian. That puts a lot of weight on the latter question when a saint is considering who he is going to "hang out" with. "Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?" (2 Corinthians 6:16). Again, the answer obviously is "None!" These are clear statements from the Holy Spirit’s pointing out the dangers of close fellowship with those who are outside of Christ, and how that can lead to the destruction of the saint’s faith.
Back in the days of Ezekiel the prophet, God showed him in a vision the desecration of the temple by the Jews’ setting up of idols in the house of God. There was what he called "the idol of jealousy" at the entrance to the inner court of the temple, there were idolatrous carvings on the wall, women were worshiping Tammuz, and men were prostrating themselves before the sun. For these reasons, the glory of the Lord departed from the temple, as Ezekiel was permitted to see in his vision. These pictures from the Old Testament writings give us God’s viewpoint on the "agreement" between the temple of God and idols. "For we are the temple of the living God," asseverates the apostle. The disciple of Christ has now been warned to consider very carefully his conduct and his associations.
It must be re-emphasized: the battle for the soul is a tremendously vicious and violent battle. The subtle hooks of false doctrine are hanging from every rafter, and every association is fraught with the possibility of the disciple’s being pulled back into the world. The saint will honestly consider these warnings, and make adjustments wherever necessary!
We are the Temple of God
The temple of Solomon was a magnificent structure, worth billions and billions of today’s currency. That temple, however, was only a foreshadow of the "greater and more perfect tabernacle" or temple to come. "You also," Peter had noted, "are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5). This spiritual house, or spiritual temple, is of far greater worth than that of Solomon, although that is not detectable in the physical realm. Because its worth must be processed through spiritual eyes, then the world puts no value whatsoever on it, and even saints are challenged a bit to be placing the proper value on it in their minds. But in knowing the value of this temple, then brethren can adjust their priorities and assessments accordingly.
- We are the temple - The apostle Paul has just challenged the brethren about their relationships with unbelievers, challenged them not to be unequally yoked. "What agreement has the temple of God with idols?" he had queried. The rhetorical question resonates with an obvious "no agreement" for an answer. Having established that point, he then brings forth this proclamation: "For we are the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16). The apostles Peter and Paul, not surprisingly, are in agreement that the people of God constitute the temple of the living God, and therefore are of inestimable value.
- God’s dwelling place - To buttress his point about "we the Christians" being the Lord’s temple, the apostle quotes from the Old Testament writings. "Just as God said," is his introduction, followed with the quote, "I will dwell among them and walk among them," is his selection, "and I will be their God and they shall be My people." God always dwells in a temple, and hence the noting of God’s dwelling among them establishes the apostle’s point that the church is the temple of God.
- A conclusion - God is holy, and His habitation must be holy. Hence those who compose His temple must be holy as well. But new covenant holiness has elements that old covenant holiness did not possess. Under the old covenant appurtenances like the altar in front of the temple were holy because they were designated (without choice) as holy, but under the new covenant people are holy because they choose to be holy. "Like the Holy One who called you," instructed and exhorted Peter, "be holy yourselves in all your behavior" (1 Peter 1:15). Holiness, or sanctification, has to do with being set apart for God’s righteous purposes. It is in consonance with this that the apostle Paul writes, " ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you.’ " (2 Corinthians 6:17). Saints—holy ones—are being called out of this world, being called out of earthly interests and focal points to a holy fixation on living for the things above.
- Result - The apostle Paul is challenging these brethren in Corinth to lay aside their emphasis on worldly pursuits and pleasures and earnestly desire to walk with God. Under those conditions, then, the apostle brings forth this promise: " ‘And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18).
The apostle had urged the brethren to be open with him as he had been open with them. His earnest desire was that they be honest with him, and therefore honest with themselves and with God. Their associations and behavior were being called to account by the apostle’s series of questions: What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness? What harmony has Christ with Belial? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? The modern Christian would do well to weigh in the balances of his thinking the eternal value of walking in the ways of this world as contrasted to the joys and eternal value of walking in fellowship with the Father!
The Almighty and All Wise set up the human race in families. From the beginning of Creation, verified Jesus, He made them male and female. Thus families came into being with fathers, mothers, and children. The ultimate Father designed the development of the human race and its history so that He could communicate the tremendous value of these points: "I will dwell among them and walk among them." "I will be their God, and they shall be My people." "Come out from the midst of the world, be separate, do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you." "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me." The Holy Father earnestly desires fellowship with His children, but that fellowship is only possible when the children decide to be holy and separate also.
- Magnificent promises - To enable the saint to overcome the temptations of this world, the great God has offered rewards and instituted promises. God’s divine power, affirmed the apostle Peter, "has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." After laying in this foundational thought, the apostle added, "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises" (2 Peter 1:3,4). These magnificent promises are listed throughout the New Testament writings, including being born again, having sins forgiven, and having the helping power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul, in his second recorded epistle to the Corinthians, draws on this same premise. "Therefore," reasons he, "having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).
- Cleanse ourselves - God will do His part, but He will not do His part without the saint’s active and dedicated participation. Having mentioned the promises backing the saints, and having reassured them of the Father’s love, Paul then makes the appeal: "Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit." The cleansing of the inner man and the creation of a new self are accomplished by God. But the inner man and outer man are not disconnected, or there is not a huge wall between the two. What the Christian does is impacted by what God does, and the effectiveness of what God does is impacted by what the saint does. The apostle of love, John the aged, said, "If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Here we see an example of the necessary partnership, with Jesus’ blood being the cleansing agent. James, however, thunders at his audience, "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8). The saint clearly has to be active in this cleansing process. Likewise, the apostle Paul is telling the Corinthian brethren that they must be very active in cleansing themselves!
When the apostle speaks of cleansing from all defilement of flesh, he is making an appeal for the brethren to eliminate from their lifestyles all the fleshly lusts, as Peter phrases it, that wage war against the soul. This, of course, requires serious introspection and absolute honesty in looking over one’s life, and then the implementation of the necessary changes. Cleansing the spirit ties in with James’ comment on purifying the heart; this is going down into the deep areas of "the spirit of man" and making certain that inner motives and desires are truly heavenly oriented. This too requires honest and deep introspection. When the things in the inner man are dealt with, and the things of the outer man are handled, then holiness can be perfected in the fear of God. The ones who do this are the truly "separated people" that God has looked for as He peered down through the centuries. And when it comes time for saints to pass through the gates of glory, these are those to whom He says, "I welcome you!"
Confidence in The Brethren
The apostle Paul has gone to great lengths to show the brethren in Corinth his openness toward them, and to appeal that they likewise be open to him. Early in the epistle he is very personal with them. "I intended to come to you," he had stated, "that you might twice receive a blessing." The apostle also commented on some of the strong measures he had taken, asserting "that to spare you I came no more to Corinth," giving them time to put their repentance in motion. He gave them instructions on receiving back a wayward brother, then went on to beg the saints themselves to "be reconciled to God." Paul had further emphasized, "our heart is opened wide ... in a like exchange, open to us also." Thus he presented to them a variegated set of appeals for their openness and for the furtherance of the gospel.
- Make room - The apostle Paul continues on his theme for his fellowship with them on an honest and true basis. "Make room for us in your hearts," he calls out. "We wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one" (2 Corinthians 7:2). That the apostle would have to bring to their attention matters of this level— wronging, corrupting, taking advantage—is an indication of some of the charges against Paul floating around the congregation, and why he is working so hard to get the brethren to be honest about themselves and about some changes they may need to make.
- Openness, not condemnation - Jesus Himself, during the years of His earthly sojourn, made it plain that He came to turn man in the right direction, and salvage as many as possible. "For God did not send the Son of Man into the world to judge the world," He informed all who would listen, "but that the world should be saved through Him" (John 3:17). The world was already lost and already judged; Jesus came to bring the solution. In the same way, the apostle is communicating that his desire is to help solve their spiritual problems. "I do not speak to condemn you," he encouragingly states, "for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together" (2 Corinthians 7:3). The apostle thus re-emphasizes his willingness to die for their eternal souls.
- Reaffirming confidence - The apostle Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, had rebuked the brethren, had coaxed them forward, had pleaded with them, had encouraged them. Through their challenges, he had loved them and never given up on them. Even now he writes, "Great is my confidence in you, great is my boasting on your behalf" (2 Corinthians 7:4). Herein is the heart of this great preacher of the gospel revealed; he continues to believe that they will power through their difficulties and achieve spiritual victory in the end. Furthermore, he is willing to use the word "boasting"; he not only has the confidence on a quiet basis, but he is willing to shout it to the world. And how encouraging would that expression of confidence be to the struggling brethren!
It is important to recall that Paul really laid down his life for the brethren in Corinth. Although he did not undergo the sufferings there that he experienced in other locations, he was willing to face them. He is excited to express, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, his belief in the positive outcomes of their futures in Christ. "I am filled with comfort," says he, in this vein, "I am overflowing with joy in all our afflictions." That type of belief, that type of encouragement, that type of positive perspective is what kept the apostle Paul moving forward each day with the gospel of glory, in spite of the afflictions he mentions. He believed the words he wrote in his first epistle: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Returning to Previous Concern
The scripture reminds brethren again and again how intense the battle is for the eternal soul of man. After his writing the first epistle to the brethren, he was anxiously awaiting word about the faith of the saints in Corinth. There were specific challenges involved in the case of a man delivered over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh by Paul, and his apparent repentance now required instructions for his being accepted back in the local body of Christ. But the devil is always a factor, as Paul noted in his words, hoping "that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes." The devil had been able to tempt the man into an extremely immoral situation; the congregation now had to handle his coming back into fellowship with the appropriate care lest he "be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow," and his soul still end up being lost. Paul was very concerned about the church in Corinth, having, as he put it, "no rest for my spirit," and spoke of his leaving Troas and going into Macedonia to find Titus for information about the congregation. Then he launched into a long interlude before returning to the direct topic about the welfare of the body of Christ in Corinth.
- Expression of concern - Many souls’ eternities could have been wrecked had not the congregation followed the apostle’s directives. He knew that, and his intense concern is expressed in this section of the letter. "For even when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest," he writes, "be we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within" (2 Corinthians 7:5). It is interesting how the apostle phrases his facing the challenges: "our flesh had no rest." In the spiritual realm, wherein the inner man is raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenly places, there is always peace. But in the realm of the flesh, the physical realm, there was "affliction on every side." As he speaks of the "conflicts without," he is referring to the continuing persecutions connected with his preaching of the gospel of Christ, mainly coming from the hostile element within Jewish society. But when he comments on "fears within," he is referring to his agitations about the spiritual health of the congregation in Corinth.
- Comfort from God - Paul had left Troas, on the Asian side of the body of water separating it from Europe, and had crossed over to Macedonia in search of Titus, who would have news of the congregation. He expresses his relief in these terms: "But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you" (2 Corinthians 7:6-7). Paul’s inner agitations were eased by his being able to find Titus, and he was especially encouraged by the good report which Titus was able to deliver. Furthermore, all the positives connected with this Paul attributes to God.
- Good news for the depressed - Touching again on the word "comfort": it is translated from the Greek word paraklesis, which is closely related to the word parakletos, translated "Helper" in the NASB, NKJV, and ESV, and "Comforter" in the KJV. It is a fairly broad word, meaning "to comfort, exhort, console, encourage, etc." The good news here is that God is actually able to comfort or encourage the depressed, if the depressed will learn to turn to Him as the solution for their situations.
The apostle Paul, as he fought the good fight of faith, clearly had his challenges and difficulties. The "fightings without," were daunting enough, but the "fears within" certainly added to his struggle. Modern saints who encounter challenges can be comforted themselves in knowing that the great apostle Paul had his difficulties external and internal. But they can also learn from Paul’s example in patiently waiting, being diligent in prayer, and focusing upward, knowing that at the right time God will provide the encouragement/comfort!
Getting To Repentance
One of the areas in which the prince of darkness and god of confusion is able to cause major disruption is in interpersonal relationships within the body of Christ. The congregation at Corinth had been enmeshed in schisms fomented by individuals who created issues by saying, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or some who claimed to be "I am of Christ." Greek teaching and philosophy was being injected into the gospel, and rampant immorality was being tolerated. The issue which ended up being pivotal was one in which a man was "living with his father’s wife," and Paul had to intervene by delivering the man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his soul might be saved in the day of Jesus Christ. This second epistle indicates that the man repented and was to be welcomed back into the congregation. But before this letter could be written, the apostle shows his agitation over the spiritual health of the body in Corinth and the good news he received from Titus when Paul tracked him down in Macedonia. Building on that, the thinking progresses.
- More comfort - "God," attributes the apostle, "comforted us by the coming of Titus." Not only was Paul encouraged by his reunion with Titus, but Titus himself was encouraged by the brethren in Corinth. Paul phrases it in this way: Titus experienced "the comfort by which he was comforted in you [the congregation at Corinth], as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more" (2 Corinthians 7:7). The action of Paul in telling the congregation to "remove the wicked man from among themselves" could have resulted in a tremendous division and loss of fellowship between him and the local church, which would have resulted in the loss of the congregation’s fellowship with Christ. Thus, although the words "your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me" sound extremely personal, the bigger picture is the eternal destiny of the congregation, expressed in its relationship with the apostle Paul. The apostle John, speaking of the same concept of fellowship with "us"—the apostles—notes, "What we have seen and heard, we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).
- End result - Paul uses the expression "what mourning" in describing the congregation’s response to his first epistle. He expands on that. "For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it" (2 Corinthians 7:8). The overall result of his letter was such that the apostle is glad that he sent it. In his moments of agitation, his temporary perspective was that "I did regret it—for I see that the letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:9). The eventual result was that the congregation as a whole was brought to repentance, and this was a good thing.
Generally sorrow is not thought of as being particularly desirable. Sorrow is associated with loss, with grief, with tragedy, with failed expectations. But this perspective is often only an earthly purview, wherein the basic thought is that all is to go well from a "this life on earth" set of goals or objectives. For example, when Jesus explained to the apostles that he was going to go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed, Peter took Him aside and indicated that Jesus’ mind should not go down that road. Jesus pointed out to Peter that he was not setting his mind on God’s interests but man’s. The most sorrowful event in earthly history was the crucifixion of the Son of God, but it resulted in the most glorious events. Sorrow may be necessary to accomplish God’s earnest desire. "You were made sorrowful according to the will of God," is Paul’s overarching comment, "in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us" (2 Corinthians 7:9). If sorrow was necessary to produce repentance in the Corinthian brethren, then it was a good thing.
Changing the way of thinking
This is a continual source of amazement: how far away from God’s way of thinking is man’s way of thinking. "Let the wicked man forsake his way," was the message of the Lord through Isaiah, "and the unrighteous man his thoughts" (Isaiah 55:7). The All Wise and All Knowing further commented, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). Hence man on an individual basis needs to change the way he thinks, to bring his thinking in line with God’s as revealed in the scripture. This change of thinking is the true meaning of repentance. Paul, in his labor over the congregation in Corinth, is rejoicing that his letter brought them to the point of repentance.
- Godly sorrow - There is an idea out there in the public "cloud," in the general way the public thinks, that repentance is equivalent to being sorry for what has been done. This misguided concept is somewhat rooted in the Catholic concept of penance, which requires a person to pay some sort of penalty for the sin committed, in which the individual is supposed to be sorrowful for his violation of Catholic tenets. Hence, if the penitent is sorry, and does his penance, he is forgiven. Biblical teaching, as is often the case, is much different. To the Corinthian brethren, Paul writes, "I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance." This repentance is clearly different than sorrow; the sorrow is necessary to produce repentance—the willingness to do the mental work necessary to change the way of thinking. This sorrow, then, Paul comments, is "according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything though us." Jesus had been very blunt; He straightforwardly put this simple truth out there: "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). Without repentance, the individual suffers the greatest loss of all, the loss of his eternal soul. "For what does it profit a man," Jesus had thus queried, "to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36). Through Paul and his companions’ letter and labor, the Corinthians had repented, and therefore would not suffer spiritual loss. Had not the apostle done his job, the brethren would have "suffered loss through us"; but Paul kept his responsibility to the Lord and to the brethren, repentance was accomplished, and there was no loss of eternal life.
- Two types of sorrow - Judas felt remorse for betraying Jesus, but went out and hanged himself. Peter denied the Lord three times, but repented and got back on track. Judas’ sorrow was a worldly sorrow; he possibly felt bad because the consequences were greater than what he had thought they would be, and the solution was to take his own life to get out of whatever pain he felt might be looming for him on earth. Peter’s sorrow was godly; it brought him to a realization that he had drifted, and now was to follow the Lord. "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God," is Paul’s commentary, "produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). There they are, the two types of sorrow: godly sorrow that produces repentance, and worldly sorrow that produces death.
The death that Paul is talking about, obviously, is spiritual death, the eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. Anyone whose brain is processing truthfully knows that this lake is not where he wants to spend his eternity. But "the god of this world," Paul had earlier noted, "has blinded the minds of the unbelieving" (2 Corinthians 4:4); they cannot see, or process, clearly. But those who have the sorrow that produces repentance will possess the salvation resulting in eternal life in the presence of Him who lives forever and ever. The message of Jesus, therefore, to the church at Laodicea, still rings throughout the brotherhood of saints throughout the world: "be zealous therefore, and repent!" (Revelation 3:19).
Fruit of Repentance
John the Immerser’s preparatory message was for the people to repent and be immersed for the remission of their sins. In fact, so significant was his call for repentance that the name for his immersion was the "immersion of repentance" (Luke 3:3). "Then Jerusalem was going out to him," recorded Matthew, "and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan, and they were being immersed by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins" (Matthew 3:5-6). The hearts of the fathers were in fact being turned back to the children, the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, and the people were being made ready for the Lord (Luke 1:17). But when John "saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for immersion...," the record continues, he said to them, "Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:7-8). Repentance is much more than saying "Sorry," or having good intentions; there must be fruit or evidence. As the apostle Paul described his conversion to Roman governor Porcius Festus and local King Agrippa, he noted that following his immersion he preached to both Jews and Gentiles, "that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance" (Acts 26:20). This same Paul— in his correspondence with the brethren in Corinth—when he sees the actual change in performance in them, praises them.
- Godly sorrow - "The sorrow of the world produces death," the apostle had pointed out to the brethren, whereas "the sorrow according to the will of God produces repentance without regret." This repentance is without regret because that which is in accordance with the will of God always produces good fruit, and the good fruit is always beneficial to the one who repents. "For behold," the apostle writes, "what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you" (2 Corinthians 7:11). The spiritual challenge to change that Paul had given them in his earlier epistle was accepted by the brethren. They were sorry that they had not conducted themselves according to God’s expectations, and resolved to upgrade their conduct.
- Fruit of repentance - The apostle is very complimentary in his remarks toward the Corinthian brethren. Their godly sorrow bore the fruit of repentance, as the apostle exclaimed, "What earnestness this godly sorrow has produced!" From being slack in their application of scriptural principles to themselves, they became very serious indeed. The apostle continues: "What vindication of yourselves." Whatever corrections needed to made were accomplished. "What indignation"—from being numb to sin, their sense of its destructiveness was heightened, and what previously did not matter to them now was of great concern. "What fear"—The general numbness of their previous spiritual condition was set aside and the appropriate fear of God and appreciation of what His wrathful power could do was implemented in their lives. "What longing"—The effects of sin and Satan separate people and brethren in Christ so that there is no desire for interaction; true repentance results in a real longing for restoration of full and fulfilling fellowship. "What zeal"—Previous half-hearted efforts and lukewarm attitudes were replaced by the blazing zeal for the things of God, the things which please the Father in heaven. "What avenging of wrong"—It takes extra effort, time, and expense to go back and make things right; the congregation at Corinth made those efforts and was commended by the apostle. This listing of seven specific fruit of repentance produced by the church at Corinth are instructive for the brethren today!! "In everything," commends the apostle, "you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter."
He closes his words of commendation in this fashion: "So although I wrote to you it was not for the sake of the offender, nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God. For this reason we have been comforted." (2 Corinthians 7:12-13). Bigger than the issue of restoring the offender or helping the church welcome him back was the issue of the willingness of the congregation to follow the apostles and their doctrine. And so it is today.
No one can ever get away from the baseline of the meaning of life: at the end, it is eventually either heaven or hell. Jesus was of course extremely conscious of this, repeatedly saying that He did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. The world was already condemned, so His intervention was necessary to save whatever truth-seekers His gospel could find. As this gospel came to Corinth through Paul, with follow up effort by Apollos, the concern was that their salvation remain intact in spite of the schemes of the devil. Thus, as previously noted, the apostle was without rest in his soul until he could connect with his associate Titus, and from him receive news about the Corinthians’ standing firm in their faith.
- Good report - Titus brought back a positive report about the Corinthians’ response to Paul’s instructions. "God," he had said, "comforted us by the coming of Titus." Titus, an evangelist also, and one of those who worked alongside Paul, "reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me." The congregation was holding to their trust in the apostle, and were thus holding to the apostles’ doctrine. "For this reason," asseverated Paul, "we have been comforted [encouraged]."
- Additional encouragement - Not only was Paul encouraged by the response of the congregation to his admonitions, but also by their treatment of Titus. "And besides our comfort," he adds, "we rejoiced even more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all" (2 Corinthians 7:13). Because of the brethren’s commitment to the gospel and willingness to yield to its instructions, Titus enjoyed the time and the fellowship. What could have been a real discouragement had not the Corinthians been willing to repent, by contrast even Titus experienced a personal revival of his spirits. What a major swing to the positive!
- Not disappointed - Paul hoped that the congregation would heed the calls to repentance, and tended to believe that they would actually do so. However, because people and Christians are creatures of free will, he was very concerned until he found out on which side of the repentance divide they came down. But he had made statements about his belief and confidence in the congregation. "For if in anything I have boasted to him about you," he now comments, "I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth" (2 Corinthians 7:14). Paul had always preached the truth, as he here stresses, and his hopeful "boasting" about the ability of the Corinthian brethren to establish their loyalty to truth and the apostle proved to be true also.
- Resultant affection - All people, especially Christians, are spiritual beings. Hence for their interrelationships truly to be fulfilling, they must be on God’s spiritual wavelength. The church at Corinth put things right after receiving their challenges by Paul, and thus the barriers to true fellowship were torn down. "And his affection abounds all the more toward you," is how Paul comments on the turn around, "as he remembers the obedience of you all; how you received him with fear and trembling" (2 Corinthians 7:15). The brethren knew that Titus would also be bringing the message of truth, and their "fear and trembling" reflected their desire to be acceptable to him, to Paul, and ultimately to the Lord. That made possible the open reciprocal affection at a real level, and for Titus’ soul to be refreshed by these brethren.
Real joy and happiness has to do with a systematic means of deepening true spiritual relationships in Christ. When those relationships are in danger of being severed due to unresolved sin, then there is much anguish of soul rather than the rejoicing that God earnestly desires. With Titus’ report of the Corinthian brethren’s positive turn, Paul is greatly encouraged, and his confidence in the brethren proved not to be misplaced. "I rejoice," he ecstatically states, "that in everything I have confidence in you" (2 Corinthians 7:16).
The brethren in Jerusalem and Judea had suffered greatly. They had given of themselves as Jewish Christians to reach the Gentiles with the gospel, as Paul indicated in writing about this to the church in Rome: "For if the Gentiles have shared in their [the Jewish Christians’] spiritual things," he pointed out, "they [the Gentile Christians] are indebted to minister to them also in material things" (Romans 15:27). Furthermore, as is recorded in Acts: "And one of them [the New Testament prophets] stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius" (Acts 11:28). The brethren in Judea, then, were in need of financial assistance. At the close of a major meeting in Jerusalem to determine whether the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, James and Peter and John made a request of Paul: "They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10). The result was that the apostle Paul made a major organized effort to put together a large offering from the Gentile churches on behalf of their brethren in Jerusalem and Judea, including the congregation at Corinth.
- Remarks about Macedonia - The major congregations in the Roman province of Macedonia were Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Paul, in his travels through that region, had informed them of the need in Jerusalem, and here—somewhat as a challenge to Corinth—reports about the Macedonians’ response. "Now, brethren," the apostle introduces this next topic, "we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality" (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). The apostle attributes the blessings first of all, and rightly so, to the grace of God—God’s overarching nature as the supplier of all things. The Macedonian brethren’s ability to give anything at all was an awesome demonstration of God’s grace, considering the tremendous persecutions they were undergoing, as well as the deep poverty into which they were mired. However, they were joyful in the midst of their poverty; in fact, Paul describes them as having an "abundance of joy." These qualities, which have nothing to do with money, amazingly resulted in an overflowing wealth of liberality of a great contribution for the Jewish saints.
- Beyond their ability - The character of the brethren in Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi certainly could be, and should be, exhibited as an example to all Christians of every century. "For I testify," averred the apostle, "that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord" (2 Corinthians 8:3). These are Holy-Spirit-inspired statements! If they gave of their own accord (and they really desired to do so!) and they gave beyond their ability, then God supplied extra for them.
- Favor of participation - It is implicit in the writing of the apostle that he was not expecting the Macedonian brethren to share in helping out the poor saints in Judea. He records, however, that they were "begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints" (2 Corinthians 8:4). Instead of being begged for an offering, the Macedonian brethren "begged" to be able to contribute! They regarded it as a favor if they would be allowed to participate! Modern saints could certainly use this as an example of what it means to be a dedicated Christian.
The reason that the Macedonian brethren were so eager to participate in making a contribution to support the poor saints in Jerusalem is evidenced in the conclusion of Paul’s thought: "And this," adds the apostle, regarding their participation rather than their non-participation, was "not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 8:5). That is of course the key for any Christian at any time: first give yourself to the Lord, and then whatever sacrifices are necessary are willingly given.
Abound in this Gracious Work
The Greek word for grace is charis, which is the etymological root for the English word charity. It is a very broad word, encompassing the grace or favor bestowed upon saints in regard to the blessings connected with being forgiven and thus capable of entering into fellowship with the eternal and holy God. But it also has to do with assisting people with their financial needs, hence one of the meanings of the word charity in modern English. Thus, as Paul is in the process of getting together a collection from the Gentile churches for the poor saints in Judea, he will refer to this as "this gracious work."
- The beginning of the collection - As Paul and Barnabas finished their meeting with the brethren in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15, they—as those who were going directly to the Gentiles—were asked to remember the poor in Jerusalem. The apostle Paul therefore was working with the Gentile congregations over which he had direct influence to encourage them to participate. Titus, as one of Paul’s close and trusted workers, was sent to Corinth to find out their spiritual condition, as well as begin the process of putting together an offering from the Corinthian congregation. "Consequently," states the apostle, "we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well" (2 Corinthians 8:6). He had encouraged Titus to get the collection finished, but it is clear that Titus went to meet Paul in Macedonia before that was accomplished.
- Things they abounded in - The congregation had responded to Paul’s first letter in a repentant fashion, exhibiting zeal and earnestness for the things of God. The apostle is going to note those things, and appeal that they apply the characteristics to this special offering. "But just as you abound in everything," he reminds them, listing that they abound "in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you" (2 Corinthians 8:7). In his opening statement to the brethren in his first epistle, he had commented that they were "not lacking in any gift," meaning that they had all the gifts or manifestations of the Spirit given through the laying on of an apostle’s hands. The congregation was comprised of those, then, who would have a special gift of faith, encouraging the other brethren to have faith in God and extend themselves in making this contribution to the saints in Judea. They had those who could prophesy, and those who could deliver messages in foreign tongues and have them interpreted; hence they abounded in "utterance" for the exhortation of the brethren in this matter. They had those who possessed the gift of "knowledge," who also would be able to strengthen the brethren in God’s will and direct knowledge of His backing them in this project. Because of their newly inspired repentance, they abounded in earnestness in getting the offering done. Finally, the love of God flowing from the Holy Spirit had been "inspired in" them through the preaching, teaching, and example of the apostle and his traveling companions.
- Abound in this also - The apostle Paul had, in connection with what God had done, given the congregation all that was necessary for motivation in making this collection for the poor brethren. He then brings forth this exordium: "See that you abound in this gracious work also." The congregation had the tools, they had the earnestness and motivation; now they needed to "abound" in their contribution also. (He will appeal more for the need to be generous in ensuing paragraphs.)
This gracious work was indeed to be a work of charity. More than the Corinthian brethren could realize from their limited perspective, the contribution to the Jewish saints was going to accomplish a major positive step forward in the plan of God. Their giving would greatly assist the brethren in Judea, it would increase the faith and love of the Gentile Christians, and it would do a tremendous amount to pull the Jewish and Gentile elements of the church together as one working unit. Paul and the Holy Spirit are thus putting a lot of effort and a lot of scripture into "this gracious work."
Poverty and Riches
God is a Master Strategist, and His plans—although often on a very large scale by human standards—never fail. His word is sure, and His prophecies are certain. For example, God through Elijah the prophet had stated that the family of Ahab, wicked king of Israel and husband of Jezebel, would be destroyed. Thus, even such an unworthy as Jehu, violent supplanter of Ahab’s house, could say, "Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab, for the Lord has done what He spoke through His servant Elijah" (2 Kings 10:10). This is an interesting expression: that nothing of the word of the Lord would fall to the earth! His word is sure, and His prophecies certain. One of those prophecies came through the New Testament prophet Agabus, who "stood up and begin to indicate that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world" (Acts 11:28). The inspired historian Luke recorded, "And this took place in the reign of Claudius." Claudius began to reign as Emperor (the Augustus) in AD 41 , and this famine was endured by the Jewish Christians in Judea during his reign. Thus Paul in his second and third missionary journeys (AD 49-52 and AD 53-57) was involved in arranging for and collecting an offering from the Gentile congregations for the impoverished brethren. Even earlier, from the congregation in Antioch, Paul (or Saul as he was then known) assisted the brethren in Jerusalem. "And in proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders" (Acts 11:29-30).
- Showing love - Paul thus already had experience in a free will offering for the saints in Judea. Here he exhorts the Corinthian brethren in this later collection: "I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also" (2 Corinthians 8:8). The brethren in Judea had endured tremendous suffering at the hands of the Jews, but they served as the basis by which the gospel would reach to the Gentiles. It was their steadfastness—their businesslike earnestness—which made the continuation of the word possible. Paul is thus asking for a free will offering from the congregation at Corinth as a visible demonstration of their love for those Jewish saints.
- Rich to poor/poor to rich - Ultimately, the apostle is going to appeal to the great example of the Lord Jesus Himself, the One who left the riches of heaven voluntarily to die by crucifixion on earth. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," he reminds them, "that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor; that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). In the spiritual realm, Jesus gave up His "riches" that the brethren, in "poverty" might participate in spiritual riches. The perspective of the word of God, therefore, is that those who share in spiritual blessings are very willing to share material blessings with those who have given of themselves to distribute the spiritual truths.
Many projects are begun that are never brought to completion. "Well begun" may be "half done," but it still is only half done! Hence this exhortation: "And I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also; that just as there was a readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability" (2 Corinthians 8:10-11). They had the desire in the beginning; they needed the desire now to GET IT DONE!
By Way of Equality
God has never been interested in driving people into the ground, grinding the faces of the poor into the dirt (like those who oppressed Israel are pictured). He is the consummate Builder, the One who "gives to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25). He therefore is not interested in extracting from mankind their offerings. "The God who made the world and all things in it," this apostle had instructed the Athenians on Mars Hill, "since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with human hands, neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything" (Acts 17:24-25). The Almighty is interested, then, in free will offerings as a means of developing the faith of His disciples rather than actually needing the goods or money for His own use. And He is not trying to pull from the pockets of Christians resources they do not possess. These principles are evident in his continuing instruction to the brethren in Corinth concerning their part in the collection for the poor saints in Judea.
- What a man has - In his exhortation to the brethren to complete the offering, he notes, commendably, that "there was the readiness to desire" to participate in the offering. Building off that comment, the apostle Paul adds, "For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have" (2 Corinthians 8:12). In his instructions in the first epistle, Paul had put it in these terms: "Let each one put aside and save, as he may prosper" (1 Corinthians 16:2). This is why Paul was amazed at the brethren from Macedonia when he noted, "Beyond their ability they gave of their own accord" (2 Corinthians 8:3). He wants them to be willing to give—to have the "readiness." But if the "readiness" was present, then the offering was acceptable according to what a man actually had.
- Leveling the burden - Religious leaders often persuade those over whom they have influence to impoverish themselves for the purpose of lining the pockets of those same religious leaders. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees," Jesus is recorded as saying, "because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers" (Matthew 23:14). Thus Paul explains concerning this offering for the saints in Jerusalem: "For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality" (2 Corinthians 8:13). He further explains, "At this present time your abundance can be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality" (2 Corinthians 8:14). These instructions show a tremendous need on the part of those who would become recipients, with the understanding that should the situation be reversed in the future, the recipients would turn into the contributors.
- Lesson from the wilderness - When the children of Israel were wandering the forty years in the wilderness, they were fed with manna from heaven every day. Able-bodied men would be able to gather much quickly from the ground, whereas the elderly widow would have difficulty gathering enough. But at the end of the gathering, the ones who gathered an excess only had what they had been allotted, and those who were only able to gather a little miraculously had their quota. God was ultimately setting the stage for Christianity, wherein the brethren are to share across the board, meeting the needs of those in Christ who are truly destitute. Hence it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack" (2 Corinthians 8:15).
God worked on a massive scale to allow this inequality between the Gentile brethren and the Jewish brethren to develop. God could have supplied the needs of the Jewish brethren just by increasing the crops of their ground. But He chose, in order to increase the faith of all brethren, to bring this situation about. How great is His wisdom, and how unfathomable are His ways!!
Earnestness and Honesty
Even though Paul cannot be physically present in Corinth, he does have a network of men who work with him, and who can help guide the brethren. Names such as Luke, Aristarchus, Secundus, Timothy, and Titus show up in the account of Paul’s life in the book of Acts, and grace the openings and closing sections of Paul’s epistles. As Paul, then, discusses the collection for the poor saints in Judea with the church at Corinth, it is the name of Titus which pops up. Titus had been sent by Paul to Corinth to assist with some of the upset connected with a man who had been living with his father’s wife, and in consequence was also enlisted in aiding and encouraging the Corinthian brethren to get their offering ready. Titus proved to be an able and willing co-worker of Paul, carrying out his instructions and independently providing his direction and encouragement.
- Titus’ earnestness - Earnestness has to do with sincere and honest efforts, and efforts that are more than half-hearted. One of the characteristics of the repentance of the Corinthian congregation was their earnestness. This earnestness, then, needed to carry over to the offering for the Jewish brethren in Judea. "But thanks be to God," is one of Paul’s praises, "who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus" (2 Corinthians 8:16). Titus, sent by Paul, clearly had an intense love for the Corinthians, and desired that they follow Paul’s instructions and get it right for the sake of their eternities. "For he not only accepted our appeal," adds the apostle, "but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord" (2 Corinthians 8:17).
- Unnamed brother - In addition to Titus’ being on hand to help with the final preparations and having the offering ready to load on a ship, another brother—well recommended—is going to be present as well. "And we have sent along with him," Paul informs the saints, "the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; and not only this, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work" (2 Corinthians 8:18-19). In Luke’s inspired history, the book of Acts, he recorded the men who were traveling with Paul at the close of his third missionary journey. This was when the apostle was bringing the contribution from the Gentile congregations to Jerusalem, which he later termed "I came to bring alms to my nation" (Acts 24:17). "And he was accompanied," recorded Luke, "by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia" (Acts 20:4). Luke, not mentioned by name in the book of Acts, was with Paul also. It is a possibility that the "unnamed brother" who accompanied the offering as a representative of all the churches was Timothy.
- More on the travelers - These men who would accompany the offering would be tested and trusted men. The offering was large enough that it clearly filled a major part of the hold of the ship, evidenced by the fact that the ship would dock where Paul wanted it to. "And we have sent with them our brother [the unnamed one], whom we have often tested and found diligent, because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; and as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ" (2 Corinthians 8:22-23).
The apostle Paul wants this offering to be a major help to the poor saints, and he wants the brethren who contribute to know that the men involved are worthy of their trust. It is worth repeating: "They are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ!" What high praise, and what a high recommendation!! May modern brethren imitate the openness and the honorable character portrayed by Paul as he urges the finishing up of the work on this strategic collection.
Honorable in the Sight of All
A sizeable offering was being collected by Paul from the Gentile congregations on behalf of the poor saints in Judea. The problem, of course, is that where money is involved (particularly lots of it) the thieves are gathered. This is true also of the Lord’s work and the Lord’s money. Even in the close proximity of Jesus was Judas Iscariot, of whom it is written: "He was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it" (John 12:6). All the disciples of the Lord would be aware of this part of Christ’s story, and hence would be extra careful in trusting someone with large sums of cash. Thus, as Paul is in the final stages of getting this collection ready, he wants to reassure the brethren of the care taken in regard to these finances.
- This gracious work - Paul several times refers to the offering as "this gracious work." It is a charitable endeavor, for the relief of the brethren in Judea. When Paul referred to it in the letter to the congregation in Rome, he put it in the category of service, the realm of spiritual sacrifice. "I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints," he reported, "for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (Romans 15:25-26). And as he requested prayers from the brethren, he spoke in terms of "that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints" (Romans 15:31). "This gracious work," Paul informs the brethren, "is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness" (2 Corinthians 8:19). The ultimate twin goals for the offering, then, were that the Lord might receive the glory, and that the saints would show their readiness to participate in the Lord’s strategic thrust.
- Proper precaution - Because the whole collection effort was "being administered by us for the glory of the Lord," the apostle is wanting everything to be open to scrutiny from the brethren. We are, he says, "taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift" (2 Corinthians 8:20). As mentioned, where money in any significant amount is present, then the possibility of a weaker soul’s being tempted is also very present. The gift was going to be "generous," and thus every "precaution" was being taken. "We have regard for what is honorable," the apostle adds, "not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men" (2 Corinthians 8:21). It is easy to claim to be honorable in the sight of the Lord and not be checked on by men. But if a person is truly operating honorably in the sight of God, he has no problem having his activities checked on by honorable and upright men. Paul is thus, even as an apostle, giving the brethren assurance that everything connected with this offering is going to be open to scrutiny, exposed to honest accounting.
When Ezra the scribe, in 457 BC, left Babylon for the city of Jerusalem, he brought with him an offering to the Lord. In the presence of the leading priests, he "weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the utensils, the offering for the house of our God" (Ezra 8:25). When he arrived at Jerusalem, protected by the good hand of the Lord, he also delivered the offering. "And on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the utensils were weighed out in the house of our God" into the hands of the priests ministering there (Ezra 8:33). Thus everything was done honorably in the sight of men as well as in the sight of God. Paul is giving this same assurance to the brethren in Corinth concerning the saints’ offering for Jerusalem, that they might give with full confidence. "Therefore," he exhorts, "openly before the churches show them the proof of your love and our reason for boasting about you" (2 Corinthians 8:24). This, then, is how the church of the Lord today conducts its business as well.
Boasting about the Gift
The apostle Paul was personally very involved in the collection for the poor Judean saints coming from the Gentile congregations. When he met with Peter and John and the others in Jerusalem concerning whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, it was clear that Paul was to keep going to the uncircumcised. "They only asked us to remember the poor," he recalled, "the very thing I also was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10). As part of his history of bringing "alms to his nation," Paul was personally committed to taking a very "generous" offering from the Gentile congregations of Macedonia, Achaia, and other provinces. In taking this collection from these brethren, he was openly enthusiastic and optimistic about their participation, which he called "boasting."
- "Your readiness" - Paul is confident in the Corinthians’ participation in this offering, but he is also in the mindset of "trust, but verify." "For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints," he affirmatively and positively states, "for I know your readiness of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them" (2 Corinthians 9:1-2). He has been lauding what he believed to be the efforts of the brethren from Achaia to the Macedonians, and the Macedonian brethren were stirred to at least match what they thought the Corinthians were doing. The apostle trusts—he says it is "superfluous" for him to write—but he is also going to verify.
- Sending the brethren - Paul had previously made mention of Titus’ being one of those coming to assist in readying the collection. "Consequently," he had earlier penned, "we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, he would also complete this gracious work as well" (2 Corinthians 8:6). Coming back to that point, he continues the thought, "But I have sent the brethren, that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, that, as I was saying, you may be prepared" (2 Corinthians 9:3). He doesn’t want his "boasting" to be premature.
- When Paul comes - Paul’s plan was to come to Corinth when the timing was right, and do his part in collecting this offering, as well as whatever other ministrations he could accomplish. As he would be making this his last trip through the area and making his way to Jerusalem, he thought that others would probably be traveling with him. Conscious of that, as he speaks of the Corinthians’ being prepared, he expresses his concern, "lest if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we (not to speak of you) should be put to shame by this confidence" (2 Corinthians 9:4). He wants to verify their preparedness so that, in other words, he won’t be embarrassed.
- Reiteration - Paul usually has a team of men working with him, in this case including Titus. "So I thought it necessary," he emphasizes, "to urge the brethren [the team] that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that it might be ready as a bountiful gift" (2 Corinthians 9:5). It was important that everything not only be ready from the Corinthians, but also be organized and ready to load onto the ship to get it to Jerusalem. If all that organization has to be done when Paul arrives (to say nothing of trying to do the same thing at all the other collection locations), then that would be a huge waste of the preacher’s time.
This truly "bountiful gift" would be a pretty large chunk of change. Paul has indicated his confidence in the size and readiness of the gift in his "boasting" to the Macedonians at Philippi and Thessalonica. The indications are that he was not disappointed, and he was not put to shame by the brethren. May it be so today!
Sowing and Reaping
People—saints—often have good intentions, but things get in the way of their execution. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances, such as blocked traffic, interfere with plans. Sometimes illness, or unexpected emergencies, or a shift in priorities can prevent the good intention from being carried out. Sometimes it is just plain laziness, or "I just didn’t feel like doing it" that result in the good intention’s not being carried out. Thus, when the apostle Paul was planning for the offering for the saints in Judea, he had to put some things in motion to help the saints carry out their good intentions rather than having them blocked by circumstances or a weakness in their characters. "So I thought it necessary," he explains, "to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that the same might be ready as a bountiful gift, and not affected by covetousness" (2 Corinthians 9:5). Even those dynamic, suffering, awesome first-century Christians could be affected by covetousness!
- Sparingly/bountifully - It is a clear principle in the physical realm that the ratio of the crop to the seed sown is related to the number of acres planted. The man who sows 20 acres of wheat in a small plot of ground is not likely to have the size of harvest as the farmer who plants 2000 acres of wheat. Both are dependent upon God for the harvest’s producing a yield, but the general rule is that the more that is sown, the greater the harvest. The same is true in the spiritual realm, for the God who backs the production in the physical realm is the same God who backs the production in the spiritual realm. Hence, as Paul is encouraging the brethren with regard to the offering for the poor saints of Jerusalem, he writes: "Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6). There is certainly risk involved when the farmer plants, whether it be 20 or 2000 acres; he is ultimately dependent upon the Lord of the harvest to give him the return for his investment and labor. He sows in faith and cultivates in faith. The apostle is thus encouraging the brethren to have faith in God’s provision as they dig into their pocketbooks for this particular project actually set in motion by the Lord Jesus Himself. God promised to give major positive returns for those who would give bountifully for this offering.
- Purposed heart - The brethren had already committed to participate in this special offering, as Paul mentions in these terms: "your previously promised bountiful gift." In encouragement to have a strong finish in this matter of giving, since it was being collected over a period of time, the apostle continues. "Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart," is his reminder, "not grudgingly or under compulsion; for the Lord loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). The brethren had been instructed in Paul’s previous letter to set aside as they had prospered; in other words, a pre-calculated portion or percentage. The encouragement, then, is for each of the saints to have the faith to fulfill that commitment, which initially flowed from a committed heart. The encouragement also included provisions for attitude adjustment if necessary, helping the disciples past giving grudgingly or feeling compelled, and being able to get to the point that they were participating with a cheerful heart.
God had a big picture strategy He was implementing. He could have just provided for the poor saints in Judea by pouring out His material blessings from the sky. But that would not have accomplished His long term plan and His agenda of bringing the Gentile and Jewish elements of the church closer together. Hence He placed Himself in the position of needing the Gentile brethren to make their contributions in faith in order that His magnificent plan be executed. He therefore promised that those who would sow bountifully would also reap bountifully. And this is a promise that He has never rescinded!
Abundance for Every Good Deed
When God cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin, from that point on man was forced to earn his living by the sweat of his brow. Part of the challenge of hacking the jungle back every day, fighting through the briars and brambles, brushing off insects, and warding off predators is that such a battle requires constant attention. The result is that people as a whole lose their proper focus on God and drift into a materialistic viewpoint. In other words, they tend to forget that God is the One who makes planting and harvesting successful in the first place, and without His generous provision nothing would be harvested. As Paul and Barnabas explained to the residents of the Roman province of Lycaonia, God "did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). How easy it was for the ancients to drift into ignorance about the true God! Even the saints of the new covenant can forget, thinking that all the fruit of their labor depends upon their efforts. Hence they are stingy when they should be generous, sowing sparingly when they should be sowing bountifully.
- Motivating the faithful - Looking to God to provide requires faith, and specifically looking for God to provide an abundance for extra giving requires Biblically defined new covenant faith. The apostle Paul is thus challenging the first century saints—and through them the Holy Spirit is challenging twenty-first century saints—to believe that God will do what He has promised to do. "And God is able," are the preparatory words from the apostle, "to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (2 Corinthians 9:8). These words from the apostle are true; they are used by every charlatan claiming to speak the words of God for the purpose of motivating the hearers to empty their pockets for whatever cause or purpose the orator is presenting. But for those who truly have the biblically defined faith, these words are designed to encourage the faithful of the Lord to contribute to what is specifically called "every good deed."
- Abounding in grace - One of the obstacles facing Christians is that there never seems to be quite enough money available for the cost of living plus the cost of giving. Hence the apostle appeals to the faith of saints with the awesome, true, and powerful words: "God is able." When the saint does not have enough, God does. But the All Wise is constantly in the process of increasing the faith of the saints, and faith requires that the individual step forward into an area where a clear promise of God has provided a definite but unseen bridge. The encouragement, then, is for the Christian to trust in what God has truly promised, that He will "make all grace abound to you," that the faithful follower of Christ will always have "all sufficiency in everything," and that he will "have an abundance for every good deed." Those are huge promises. Will the saint have enough belief to give the extra? The record indicates those first century saints from the ranks of the Gentiles did, and God was able to accomplish some great things through their extra contributions!
In general, the descendant of Adam tends to focus on planting his small supply of seeds in the ground, tending their growth, and gathering his harvest. He tends to forget that God is the One who gives the seed the capacity to produce a plant in the first place, that God is the One who makes it possible for the plant to get its water and nutrients. Hence, he loses his faith in God and focuses on trusting himself. The Father called the first century saints out of such a small-straw view, calling on them to trust Him to supply their needs. The scripture reminder is given: "He scattered abroad, He gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever" (2 Corinthians 9:9). Trust in God, brother, with generosity in your finances, and watch God give the increase and assist the poor who truly need His help!
"Corn" is the older English word for any of the grain family; indeed "corn" is still used in that context except in the U.S.A. and a few other English-speaking locations in the world. "Corn" in the U.S. usually refers to maize which is derived from ancestral stock which was domesticated in Mexico sometime shortly after the peoples were scattered from Babel. But the English roots still show up in some modern expressions such as "seed corn," the grain left over from the previous year’s harvest which would be used for planting the new year’s crop. The whole process of sowing and reaping works because of God’s design; the plant which springs from the "seed corn" contains many more grain kernels than the single seed dropped into the fertile ground. This is God’s multiplier effect.
- God’s supply - Very few farmers consciously process the idea that the multiplication of the seed has to be designed by God or it would not happen. The tillers of the ground simply ready the surface for planting, get the seed into the ground, and wait for the harvest. Paul is using this principle to encourage the brethren to sow and reap in a little different realm, the realm of contributing for the work of God. "Now He who supplies seed to the sower," is the apostle’s next reasoned point, "and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness" (2 Corinthians 9:10). The point here is simple: why not trust the God who designed the wheat kernel to produce a multiple number of kernels to also implement His same promised design into money dropped into the offering box? The farmer who eats his seed corn instead of planting it in the soil would be regarded as short-sided or ignorant. How about the Christian, then, who disregards the direct words of God in the financial realm where He promises to "supply and multiply" the financial resources that are planted for the harvest in the spiritual realm? If he instead "consumes" his "seed corn" instead of contributing, would he not likewise be regarded as short-sided or ignorant?
- Enriched for liberality - Selfishness never works positively in the plan of God. Selfishness began with the outcast angel of darkness and has resulted in massive curses of all kinds burning like fires throughout the relationships inside the human race. Consequently, when God starts talking about multiplying the seed of a financial harvest, that multiplication cannot be for selfish purposes. In other words, if an individual "gives more" so that he can "get more," the Lord of the harvest will make sure that this is one plan that will not work. The apostle Paul explains, "You will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God" (2 Corinthians 9:11). Paul had prefaced the statement about "enrichment" with the words "increase the harvest of your righteousness"; selfishness is the opposite of righteousness and hence is not in the equation of God’s working in supplying and multiplying. "Enrichment" is for increasing liberality; God is looking for responsible conduits for His financial resources in providing what is necessary and desirable in His plan for the church and the expansion of evangelism.
The specific application of the generosity to which the apostle refers is the special offering for the poor saints in Judea. It is easy to picture the disciple of Christ in Judea, who to some degree impoverished himself in getting the gospel to the Gentiles, struggling by God’s will to survive for a time, and then at a critical moment receiving a major contribution from the Gentile brethren. This, says Paul, "is through us producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints," he informs the brethren, "but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God" (2 Corinthians 9:12). If one saint’s sowing financial seed and having that multiply through liberality for the benefit of another saint, and the result is many thanksgivings to God, who on earth could possibly fault the heavenly plan and wisdom in such an outcome?
Proof of Ministry
Talk, as has been well said, is cheap. When all has been said and done, a lot more will have been said than done. What everyone is expecting of those who talk is action, the "walk" coming up to match the "talk." Furthermore, when it comes to actually caring for people, the word of God has a number of things to ponder. "But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need," stated the aged apostle John, "and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17). That is certainly a fair question, followed with the exhortation, "Little children, let us not love with word of with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18). "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food," added James, experienced elder of the church in Jerusalem, "and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for the body, what use is that?" (James 2:15-16). Thus, when the apostle Paul is encouraging the brethren to finish up the good work of sending relief to the saints from the rank of the circumcised, he is asking for action—he is asking for proof!
- Result of action - God’s big plan was for the Judean saints to be in desperate need, and for the Gentile saints to send supplies to their rescue. This massive plan involved sending a famine to ravage the land around Jerusalem, (which, if a person thinks about it, is no small accomplishment). The overall goal was to bring the Jewish and Gentile elements of the church together in real love and fellowship, and in the process tear down the dividing wall of Jewish customs and the separated living style of the Jews which put circumcised and uncircumcised into two different groups. The apostle is thus optimistic and excited about the completion of the offering, expressing his hope in these terms: "Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all" (2 Corinthians 9:13). When the actual real assistance for the saints would arrive, rather than empty promises and expressed good intentions, then the circumcised brethren would truly glorify God. They would also recognize the truthfulness of the confession that these Gentiles had made, that for them also, "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God."
- Pulling the two groups together - The apostle Paul knows from his involvement in the collection effort that the offering for the Jewish brethren is not going to be a mere token offering; it is described as "the liberality of your contribution to them." This outpouring of real affection and real assistance will have, Paul is confident, a desire for these from the ranks of the circumcision to fellowship with their uncircumcised brethren. He phrases his confidence in the response of the Judean saints, noting that "they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you" (2 Corinthians 9:14). That the prayers would be generated would be awesome, and that the Judean brethren would pray for the Gentile Christians would be a tremendous step forward.
This all began with charis, the charity or grace that came from God Himself. This charis Paul modified with the word "surpassing"; the size of the gift was going to be overwhelming in size in order to tear down the barrier of the dividing wall that had existed between Jew and Gentile in the church. God was using these huge scale events—the famine, Paul’s working among the Gentile congregations, and the Gentile congregations’ willingness to participate—to accomplish this tremendous and long-term purpose. "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Beginning of Paul's Defense
There were still elements of dissent within the congregation at Corinth. Some of these appear to be, based on language from the first epistle, men imbued in Greek philosophy with the intent of bending Biblical teaching in that direction. To do so, they had to attack the doctrines that Paul taught, and to attack those doctrines, they had to attack his apostleship. Hence it is, in order to protect the church and the apostles’ doctrine, Paul is forced into a long defense of his apostleship. This, as it proceeds, is clearly a reluctant defense, and it is only because of the extremely dangerous nature of the attack that Paul is willing bring some of the things personally connected with him into the discussion.
- A bit "snarky" - The apostle, in opening his defense of his apostleship, is going to use some of the snide comments spoken against him to introduce, somewhat sarcastically, this next and important topic. "Now, I, Paul," says he, "myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold when absent!" (2 Corinthians 10:1). His accusers are obviously using the tactic of saying that Paul was bold when he was not physically present, but cowardly when he was confronted face to face. He turns the accusation of his "meekness" to call, or "urge," them to good behavior by "the meekness and gentleness of Christ."
- Full force of Paul’s spiritual strength - Paul’s accusers possibly had forgotten his probing questions from his first epistle: "Shall I come to you with a rod? Or with love and a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Corinthians 4:21). Implicit in those questions is that the apostle could come with a "rod" of discipline backed by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the brethren would do well to humble themselves to do the Lord’s will. But the problems were again bubbling to the surface, and the apostle sadly has to restate his challenge. "I ask that when I am present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some," is his polite request, "who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh" (2 Corinthians 10:2). If someone in the congregation were to challenge Paul, he would lose the confrontation. The same apostle had written these inspired words to the congregation at Philippi, noting that "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Paul was the supreme example of God’s working, his own personal will being strengthened by the power of God. In personal confrontations, the one who has the strongest will wins (which is one of the reasons God is involved in strengthening the wills of His servants). Hence, if Paul really needed to face some of the contentious brethren in Corinth, he could accomplish that with confident boldness, and would win. His appeal is that in his future interaction with the disciples in Corinth, that he would not have to go that route.
With time and space between Paul and the Corinthian brethren, they might forget with whom they were dealing. This is the man who was turned from the worst persecutor of the church to its biggest promoter, having met the glorified Lord on the road to Damascus. This is the man who immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, and who on a later visit to Damascus had to be let over the wall in a basket. This is the man who was stoned and left for dead at Lystra, who, when he had regained consciousness, had immediately gotten back up and went into the city. If the brethren stopped to consider the firm resolve and the iron will of this man, and if they processed his earnest desire to see the gospel preached and souls saved, they would recognize that by comparison they were mere men of flesh. But as such they tended to regard Paul as if he "walked according to the flesh." But he walked and warred according to the Spirit, and they should heed his appeal not to face his boldness.
Divinely Powerful Weapons
It seems incongruous, but the "God of peace" must wage war against the forces of darkness and destruction. Actually, it is a testimony of the horrendous nature of evil, that this God of peace must of necessity engage in that war, and that His servants must of necessity also participate in that warfare. "He who is not with Me is against Me," had said Jesus, "and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (Matthew 12:30). Hence the apostle Paul came into battle "in the name of the God of Israel," and specifically "in the name of Jesus the Christ." Contemptible, maybe, was he in physical appearance, but certainly formidable was he in spiritual battle.
- Weaponry - The nature of the battle dictates the nature of the weaponry which will be effective. Tanks may work well in rolling hill terrain, but in mountains and cliffs, some other type of armament will be required. The apostle Paul, engaged in a spiritual war, makes his comments. "For though we walk in the flesh," he notes, "we do not war according to the flesh" (2 Corinthians 10:3). Sometimes in the scripture, the word flesh refers to the physical habitation provided for the inner man. As an example, in his letter to the Galatian brethren, he made this comment, that "the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). But when the expression, "according to the flesh," is used, it is a reference to living with earthly or material values rather than "according to the Spirit," which is a reference to living on the basis of God’s priorities in the spiritual realm. The apostle knows that cannonades and bombs, while valued by men in earthly warfare, are of no effect against the hosts of evil.
- Choice of weapons - Paul, then, charging forth into spiritual battle, chooses his weapons carefully. "The weapons of our warfare," he calmly states, "are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses" (2 Corinthians 10:4). The Jews of Jesus’ day, for example, did not understand the nature of the spiritual battle in which our Lord engaged. At one point they came by force to make Him king, and violent men sought to establish their version of the kingdom of God by force. But Jesus, in rising from the dead and taking His seat on the heavenly throne, battling according to the Spirit, completely devastated the power of the devil and the minions who serve him. Hence the apostle Paul, as His servant and walking in His footsteps, engages on the spiritual front as well with spiritual weapons—weapons described as divinely powerful for the destruction of those forces of darkness. Divine power, while not particularly visible in the physical realm, is exhibited as totally triumphant in the non-visible spiritual realm.
- Battle for the mind - Ultimately, the collective mind of mankind is where the battle takes place. God uses reason and persuasion, based on His provable and immutable word, to educate and motivate mankind to step into the realm of faith and take up God’s armament in this serious and unceasing warfare. Hence, the apostle writes, "We are destroying fortresses and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Spiritual knowledge and application are the keys in winning the war for the minds of men.
God’s "divine power," asserted the apostle Peter, "has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Peter 1:3). God gives that glory and excellence (manly, mature virtue) to his servants. In that sense, the goal is that God’s warriors "stand up and fight like men!!"
In his rejection of the teachings of God, man in general, to some degree, unwittingly opens himself to the fake teachings and false doctrines of the prince of darkness. The apostle Paul, in describing the descent of ancient societies following the Flood, expresses the point in these terms: "For even though they knew God [they all knew the story of the deliverance of their ancestor Noah from the waters of the Deluge], they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21). The ancients were not the only ones to become "foolish in their speculations"; the same pattern has been repeated generation after generation. Hence it is, in spiritual warfare, that new covenant teachings and the apostles’ doctrine are going to be directly involved in "destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- Attacking the authority of scripture - Since the Bible is the basis for all modern knowledge of God and the message of truth revealed through Jesus the Christ, it follows that Satan and his anarchist troops would, as their highest priority, work to destroy the credibility of the sacred writings. Hence cometh evolution, "higher criticism," and a whole host of other sets of speculation and mythology to take over people’s giddy minds. But the weapons available to the modern saint are divinely powerful and can destroy those speculations for anyone willing to process the truth. The Bible can be proven, to the objective mind, to be the authoritative and complete word of God.
- False doctrines on salvation - If people can get past the barrier Satan throws up against the authority of the scripture, the next area where confusion takes place is in regard to salvation. The confusion factors are manifold, ranging from a false impression of "who Jesus is" to denying the necessity of immersion for the forgiveness of sins and receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit. But the word of God answers objections—clearly defining Jesus as the resurrected Christ and the great God of Judgment, and laying out unequivocally the way of salvation through His name.
- Attacking the teachings concerning the church of the living God - The church of Jesus Christ, or the kingdom of God, next to Jesus Himself, is the central message of the New Testament writings. As the machinery by which God gets His word spread to the nations or Gentiles of the world, it is attacked from every direction—both inside and out—by those same forces of darkness. If the church can be derailed or stopped, then the plan of God gets blocked or shunted aside, and the devil accomplishes some of his purpose. Once again, the teaching of the New Testament writings in particular give all the necessary instructions for the formation and functioning of the local congregation.
- Attacking the potential of the Christian - The individual saint is God’s soldier, placed on the spiritual battlefield exactly where the Lord wants him. But if the deceiver can trick the disciple of Christ into thinking that he is nothing but a sinner, that he can fight but will always lose, then on a collective basis the tempter has accomplished his victory. But the writings of God in the scriptures establish that the saint is in fact the result of a new creative act and can tap into the awesome spiritual power provided by the Holy Spirit and the word of God. He can march in victory rather than cower before the marshalled forces of the outcast angel.
There are many other examples of major areas of confusion that the devil and his servants are able to perpetrate. But every single confusion factor and every single false doctrine is countered intelligently by the word of God. The saint, properly taught, and trained to think clearly, can be involved in "destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God." The goal, of course, is not the knowledge itself because knowledge in this fashion simply puffs up the individual. But the goal is to use this knowledge to help deliver others from the net of captivity thrown over those who have been kidnapped by Satan, and deliver them into the freedom of the sons of God!
Taking Every Thought Captive
The human brain is a marvel and wonder, outrivaling anything else in the created universe. The estimated 12 billion cells, with their estimated 120 trillion connections, provide a matrix of nerves, electrical transmission (and even possibly some optical transmission), with the ability to process unbelievably complex algorithms almost instantaneously; that is staggering! How such things as love, joy, peace, patience, and the like, can be produced in the human soul and spirit and processed by the incredibly complex computer system that sits in its housing unit atop the shoulders is known only to the God who designed it and had the technical capability to activate it. But it is there, and the individual who has the stewardship of its capabilities is responsible for the choices it makes.
- Training from an early age - Children can be trained to do many things, and can be directed in the way of forming good habits. It takes discipline on the part of the parent or mentor, but children can be trained to pick up their toys at an early age, and can be trained to do many adult level jobs by the time they are in their early teens. It was commonplace in early American history for teen-aged boys to do a man’s work in a sixteen-hour day, and for the girls as early as twelve to do all the work required of a woman. The scripture is not kidding when it says, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).
- Spiritual discipline - Discipline and training in the physical or educational realm is one thing; discipline and training the spiritual realm is another. While Thomas Jefferson, major author of the American Declaration of Independence, was disciplined in education and met the disciplined requirements of his day in the physical realm, as a Deist he was totally undisciplined in spiritual understanding and recognition of the truths of the Bible. The record, of course, for the human race, is that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Hence, as people are immersed into Christ and become new creations, a new set of training needs to take place. Herein the thought processes of the old man are to be done away, and the thought processes of the new man to be implemented.
- Controlling every thought - When a repentant, believing person is immersed into Christ, he is in fact an entirely new product of the creative work of God. While the outer shell looks the same, and needs to be re-programmed, this new being is "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). As such, this being "born from above" has the potential of "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:6). That is certainly a "tall order," but saints have a very big God. They simply have to believe and be "fully assured that what He has promised, He is able also to perform" (Romans 4:21).
The secret to accomplishing spiritual goals is to be taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Certainly our Lord was so disciplined, and left us the example that we should walk in His footsteps. Men like the apostle Paul and others were maintaining control over their minds and thus able to serve as models for those who were to come later. The exhortations of scripture can therefore be implemented by each modern saint if he earnestly and intensely desires. "Do not be conformed to this world," is one exordium, "but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).
The apostle Paul, armed with "weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left" is ready to do battle with the unscriptural detractors in Corinth. "For though we walk in the flesh," says he, "we do not war according to the flesh." The smart thing for his opposition to do would be to repent, and yield humbly to the authority and teaching of this great apostle of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s enemies in Corinth were engaged in ad hominem attacks. Their goal was to destroy the doctrines he preached by first destroying his reputation and his positive impact on the congregation. What was at stake, of course, was the eternal salvation of hundreds of souls in this spiritual warfare inside the church at Corinth. That is why the apostle emphasizes that "though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh." He does have weapons in this warfare, and these weapons are powerful enough to combat the forces of darkness trying to take control of the minds of mankind. "We are destroying speculations," he says, "and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God." These weapons, applied by the individual Christian to himself, enable him to take "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" and thus escape the snares and schemes of the devil. But that is a battle that must be fought every day.
- Complete obedience - When Paul came into Corinth, he preached the whole message of life in Christ, and his character was of such consistency that he would have, as exhibited in Ephesus, declared anything that was profitable and brought to view the whole purpose of God. Some in Corinth were still fleshly, in that there was jealousy and strife among them. But there were some who would have come to the point where they were taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, but were being side-tracked by the false teachers arising within the congregation. Hence, he phrased his point in this fashion: "we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete" (2 Corinthians 10:6). He is coming to Corinth, and he is letting them know that he can be as bold and courageous as he needs to be to get the gospel ship righted in that congregation.
- Problem in viewpoint - When a person’s mind is set on the things of the flesh, he is not perceiving things as they really need to be perceived. The mind set on the flesh is death, Paul told the congregation in Rome. So the individual who allows his mind to be focused on this world cannot see the value of things eternal; otherwise he would switch his focus. Problems in Corinth resulted from saints’ there having an incorrect view. "You are looking at things as they are outwardly," the apostle tries to inform them (2 Corinthians 10:7). Jesus had encountered a similar problem with the Jewish hierarchy when He went up to the feast of tabernacles six months or so before He was crucified. "Do not judge according to appearance," was His admonishment, "but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
- Real confidence - Paul’s enemies would boast that they were just as much Christians as was Paul, and that they were on an equal or even better footing than he. While that seems surprising from the viewpoint of the 21st century, an overall look at the scripture shows it is a common failing of those with an earthly perspective. The book of Jude recalls the challenge to Moses’ divinely appointed authority by one of the Levite leaders, Korah. "They have gone the way of Cain," is the commentary, "for pay they have rushed into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah" (Jude 1:11). To those who viewed things outwardly and challenged Paul’s apostleship, he asseverates, "If anyone is confident that in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s so are we" (2 Corinthians 10:7). What record could any of these offer that would match the conversion of Paul?
As an apostle of Christ, Paul could come with a "rod" if need be. The big talkers in Corinth needed to bring their every thought into obedience to Christ. If they hit that point, and then digressed, Paul was ready to punish all such future disobedience!
What You See Is What You Get
Paul’s enemies were quite willing to attack him from a distance and in his absence. Clearly, those who opposed Paul and the gospel which he preached were not honest men, willing to have a forum where the issues could be discussed openly and the evidence examined. Rather, they operated from the secret blackness of slander and malicious inuendo. Such tactics were of course not new to those who served the forces of darkness; they have been the norm since the serpent told the lie to Eve in the garden. The apostle, as an imitator of Christ, must expose the falsity of the misleading statements from his opposition.
- Authority for building up - The apostle had opened this second epistle establishing the source of his apostleship: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God," he had stated (2 Corinthians 1:1). As he continues to lay out his case for the fact that he is backed by the power of God, his enemies will be exposed in step-by-step fashion. To his opposition he had issued his challenge for each to consider "that just as he is Christ’s, so are we." Having laid this overly generous foundation, he is going to build upward from there. "For even if I should boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave me for building you up and not destroying you, I shall not be put to shame" (2 Corinthians 10:8). Paul got his authority from the Lord; which of his opponents could honestly make that same claim? Jesus had stated following His resurrection from the dead that all authority (all exousia) had been given to Him. Some have tried to argue in modern times that since Jesus had all authority, no one else has any. What they fail to recognize, as did Paul’s enemies in Corinth, is that Jesus delegates authority to tested and trusted individuals in accordance with His written word. Paul here notes that he has this same exousia which the Lord gave. Taking another shot at his divisive enemies within the Corinthian congregation, he further adds that this authority is for building up rather than for destroying the temple of God. In this he is confident that in the long-term he will not be put to shame.
- Not to terrify - Paul was the one who started the congregation at Corinth. He gave a significant portion of his preaching life to bring the church off the ground, and he faced opposition from the Jewish element as well as from Greek philosophy. Hence he is tremendously interested in the continuing spiritual growth of the congregation and their ability to keep saving souls. His authority, then, as he puts it, is for building them up, adding "for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong ...‘ " (2 Corinthians 10:9-10). His goal is not to terrify saints into inaction, but rather to motivate them to take the proper action with the proper perspective in the sight of God.
- Personal presence - His letters are weighty and strong, they said, "but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10). These are certainly personal attacks designed to hurt Paul’s reputation among the brethren and discredit the doctrinal and positive influence that he should have on them.
The situation in Corinth had escalated to the point where the apostle could no longer keep silent, but with reluctance he must defend his character and his apostleship. To those who opposed him, and for the encouragement of those who supported him, he boldly states, "Let such a person consider this: that what we are in word and deed when absent, such persons we are in deed when present" (2 Corinthians 10:11).There was nothing hidden in Paul’s life. He was a classic example of "what you see is what you get." And they needed to get themselves spiritually ready, because they were going to see him face to face shortly!
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Some people are very skilled at manipulating others. Very often, they are capable of getting their target audiences to focus on the wrong details, to turn an event into something other than what it really was, or to misdirect their hearers with catchy phrases rather than remarks with substance. Such were the members of the opposition in the church at Corinth. "His letters are weighty and strong," they said, "but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible." Of what eternal significance is the "personal presence" of an individual? Even of Jesus it had been prophesied, "He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him" (Isaiah 53:2). The character of Christ is what counts! What if Paul’s head was somewhat misshapen following his stoning at Lystra? What if some of the "brandmarks" he bore on his body due to his suffering sundry persecutions were visible? Did those things, if they were there, discredit the truth and power of his teaching? Or his speech’s being "contemptible?" Who decides what is contemptible speech(or "hate speech") anyway? Bogus and misdirecting charges!! But such tactics have been used in the past ages, and will continue to be used against all who proclaim God’s truth.
- Standards of comparison — Any person who gets to pick the standard by which he is measured can pick one by which he looks really good. The enemies of Paul had been able to shift things around so that they themselves were portrayed as examples of excellence. "For we are not so bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves," he somewhat sarcastically comments, "but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding" (2 Corinthians 10:12). The congregation in general would often get lost in the subtleties of the comments and statements, so the apostle is bringing the issue out clearly for the building up of the congregation. His opponents "measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves." That would help the average member to pick out what was really going on, and to see how it was that those who were set on destroying the congregation had worked to make themselves look so good.
- Beyond the talk — In their more rational moments people know that they have to look beyond the talk and check the substance and action of the talkers. But some of the talkers are so smooth and engaging that they get people to listen to the words and forget to check the substance. Many an individual has been "conned" into buying things by smooth-talking salesman, or into following a charismatic but disingenuous leader. So Paul begins to "cut to the chase," and bring his "track record" into the discussion so as to expose those other guys as mere talkers with a hidden agenda. "But we will not boast beyond our measure," is his delimiting proposition, "but within the measure of the sphere which apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you" (2 Corinthians 10:13). Paul’s sphere of influence, including the beginning of many congregations, by the grace of God, extended from Antioch of Syria in the east all the way across what is now modern Turkey to Greece and even to portions of the Balkan peninsula. Which of his opposition could even begin to match that performance and have that experience?
While laying out his credentials as a worker in the vineyard of Christ, the apostle is also going to note that Corinth itself was within his "sphere" of influence. "For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach you," is his poignant statement, "for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:14). What could his opponents point to in that regard? They are being shoved into their proper place by statements such as this: "For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends" (2 Corinthians 10:18). Amen!
Boasting in the Lord
There are those who produce, and there are those who try to steal that produce. There are those who labor, and there are those who illegitimately try to use the fruit of that labor for personal ends. Such men are wolves, "who come only to steal, kill, and destroy" (John 10:10). When Paul spoke to the elders of Ephesus, he reminded them, "I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me" (Acts 20:33-34). These men had lived in close association with Paul during the time he spent in Ephesus, and they knew the truthfulness of his unselfish statement. Some are interested in getting the financial fruit of someone else’s labor, while others are interested in using the people others have gathered as a platform for their personal agendas. Paul was honest and content to labor in the Lord, and to function as an apostle of Jesus Christ within "the sphere which God apportioned to us." No personal agenda, only the saving of souls!
- No overextension - The Lord had given Paul a vision when he was in Troas of a man saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us" (Acts 16:9). This vision clearly was God’s call. So to Philippi Paul and his companions came, then to Thessalonica, thence to Berea, to Athens, and finally Corinth. It was the hand of God in conjunction with the apostle’s earnest desire to see the gospel preached that resulted in his being in Corinth at the proper time, and for the tremendous number of believers that were immersed in the name of Christ. "For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you," is his reminder, "for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:14). By comparison, his opponents had nothing to say
- Not boasting beyond measure - Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ and conscious of the need for the word of God to run rapidly and be glorified, was consistent in continually opening up new fields for harvest. To the church at Rome, he commented, "Thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build on another man’s foundation" (Romans 15:20). Bringing this same point to bear, he reiterates to the Corinthians, that he was "not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we shall be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you" (2 Corinthians 10:15). The congregation at Corinth was within his sphere of influence, and even those whom the Corinthians reached with the gospel were rightfully regarded as within his sphere.
Those who are selfish are generally not interested in the gospel’s reaching the lost; they are primarily interested in using what has already been accomplished for personal gain and prestige. The apostle, on the other hand, really desired that the Corinthian Christians "enlarge his sphere" by taking the gospel out to others, and backing him in his next evangelistic thrust. He explains that this is "so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another" (2 Corinthians 10:16). Again, the apostle clearly is not interested in using another man’s labor in the gospel to catapult himself into a position of high visibility. He is conscious that it is written: "But he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord" (2 Corinthians 10:17). Paul is continually aware that he functions in and is protected by the grace of God, as he explained to King Agrippa in Caesarea, "And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great" (Acts 26:22). To his opposition inside the congregation in Corinth, he can with the Lord’s full backing say, "For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends!"
Jealous with a Godly Jealousy
Because factions were developing in Corinth, there were those who were weakening doctrinally, twisting the terms of the gospel to suck more saints and others into their schismatic camps. The apostle Paul knows that to deviate from the apostles’ doctrine is spiritual death. Hence, he is going to wade into the issues of false doctrines and expose those who are promoting them. But to do that, he had to lay the foundation for his comments in this letter. He had just mentioned that he could be as bold as he needed to be to confront those who were troubling the congregation in this way. He had talked about his ability to wage spiritual warfare and destroy counterproductive speculations. He discussed the authority—the exousia—he had for building the congregation up. He had pointed out that what he was by letter he also was in person. And he had established the fact that his sphere of influence included starting the church in Corinth. None of his opponents had any comparative ground on which to stand.
- A little "foolishness" - Having set up the conversation for the next point of serious discussion, he opens with a somewhat sarcastic comment. "I wish," he proposes, "that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me" (2 Corinthians 11:1). If they had gotten this far in the letter, they were in fact "bearing" with him! But in introducing this very sensitive topic, he starts at the very lowest point in order to achieve some meaningful conversation; he appeals to them to bear with him, and then his next strategy is that he is engaging in a little foolishness. His HolySpirit-inspired commentary is not foolishness at all, but he is using this terminology to maximize the possibility of correcting the damage done by false teachers.
- Spiritual betrothal - There is a jealousy that is wrongly directed and destructive, and there is a righteous and godly jealousy. God designed marriage in the first place in Genesis chapter two, and He designed marriage to be between one woman and one man. When the woman, for example, is overly flirtatious with another man, the husband is within correct bounds to be jealous and to take appropriate steps to help his wife past that bad behavior. God was jealous toward unfaithful Israel when she went after strange gods. "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy," Paul avers, using the same thought process listed above, "for I betrothed to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin" (2 Corinthians 11:2). Again, the apostle stresses, in a different way, that he was the one who laid the foundation of the congregation, who taught them the pure doctrines of Christ, and he is jealously trying to protect their souls and their eternities.
- His fear - False doctrine can be subtle, and many have a difficult time discerning when it is being introduced. "But I am afraid," is a major statement by Paul, showing the seriousness of what he is introducing, "lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). [Side comment: in this way Paul verifies the accuracy and literalness of the Genesis record of Adam and Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden.] The same serpent, the devil and Satan, was working to twist the doctrines of Christ, and the twisting was apparently subtle enough that many of the brethren could not detect how it was being perverted.
The spiritual health of the congregation was being destroyed. Souls were about to be misdirected and sent toward the eternal hell fire. Paul’s fear and concern was certainly justified, and his jealousy for them was a godly jealousy. Paul is going to need to be bold and confident in order to expose these sneaky false teachers, and give of himself again to get the congregation back on track. But if he can salvage anything, it will be worth it!
Preaching Another Jesus
It is easy to throw the name "Jesus" around. But is it the Jesus of the New Testament record? The "Jesus" of the Mormons is a "Jesus" who once was a mere human being with a brother named Satan but who was able to attain to the priesthood and have this present earth as his own. The Muslim "Jesus" was a prophet who was taken up to heaven like Elijah and who never went to the cross or was thus resurrected. The "Jesus" of the Roman Catholics is a "Jesus" who reigns as co-regent with a "Mary" who says her heart beats as one with her "son" and who also suffers for mankind’s sins. There are a lot of Jesus’ out there, but none but One conform to the teaching of the New Testament writings. The apostle Paul is greatly concerned about the congregation in Corinth because they are willingly accepting twisted teachings. "For if one comes and preaches another Jesus," he says, "whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel, which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully" (2 Corinthians 11:4).
- Another Jesus? - The Jesus of the completed revelation is, first of all, the great Yahweh God who took human form, as the apostle Thomas confessed upon seeing Him following His bodily resurrection: "My Lord, and My God!" (John 20:28). He is the focus and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. He is the origin and object of the faith of the saints. He is the One born of a virgin, anointed with the Holy Spirit in coming up out of the waters of the Jordan, and who performed signs and wonders among the Jewish people. He is the One who was crucified on Calvary, shedding His blood for the sins of all mankind. He is the One buried in the tomb of a rich man, raised from the dead the third day, and who was seen by witnesses on earth for forty days. He is the One who ascended to glory, who sits on His eternal throne as High Priest and King. But He is not a Savior whose saving grace can be appropriated by a sprinkling ritual, or by some fake way of salvation, such as "accepting Christ into your heart." He is the Jesus described by Paul in Romans 6: "Or do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Christ Jesus have been immersed into His death?" Any other Jesus, regardless of how close it may seem to the real Jesus of the New Testament writings, is a counterfeit!
- Another Spirit - "There is," said the apostle Paul to the brethren in Ephesus, "one Spirit" (Ephesians 4:4). He is the Spirit who hovered over the waters at the Creation, mentioned in the second verse of the Bible. He guided the patriarchs, inspired the Old Testament prophets, rested upon kings like David, led Jesus up into the wilderness to be tempted by the Tempter, gave revelation to the New Testament apostles and prophets, and directed the writing and preservation of the sacred scriptures. While there is much confusion generated by the forces of darkness about the Holy Spirit, the one true Spirit is the One whom a believer receives as the indwelling Spirit at His immersion into Christ. Any other "holy spirit" is a fake!
- Another gospel - The true gospel of Christ is that properly proclaims the death, burial, resurrection, appearances, and ascension of Christ. This gospel must not only be believed, but it must also be obeyed, including immersion in Jesus’ name for the remission of sins and gift of the indwelling Spirit. Any other "gospel" is a twisted perversion!
The New Testament writings are replete with strident warnings about false teachers, false prophets and false doctrine. Based on how quickly the Corinthian brethren were "bearing beautifully" with twisted teachings, it is clear that the modern saint must continually be on his guard also.
Not an Inferior Apostleship
The apostle Paul, voluntarily and at cost to himself, laid the foundation for the congregation in Corinth. Having done so, he warned those who came after him chronologically to be very careful how they built upon that foundation. In spite of his labors and warnings, others came in, preaching "another Jesus," talking about a different "spirit," and bringing a "different gospel." A major challenge and major concern for the apostle is that the saints in Corinth "bear this beautifully." Hence Paul is having to use every bit of persuasion possible, including an extended defense of his own apostleship, to turn the Corinthians in the right direction and recognize the false apostles and false prophets among them.
- Not in the least inferior - Certainly the apostle Paul was not one of the original twelve, and was not there at the Day of Pentecost with the other apostles. He was, as he explained in his first epistle, "one untimely born" (1 Corinthians 15:8). Jesus, the Head of the church and master strategist, had Paul become an apostle outside of normal channels and at a later time. Among other things, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus ensured the maximizing of the impact of the gospel among the Jews, and provided an important check and confirmation of the gospel others were preaching. Regarding the gospel and doctrines which he preached, "I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it," he informed the Galatian brethren, "but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12). Thus he will make his point to the Corinthians, "For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:5).
- Speech and knowledge - The enemies of Paul and the gospel attacked his person in an attempt to dissuade others in the congregation in Corinth to reject his leadership and teaching. This approach was, of course, dishonest, but the forces of darkness (whether operating outside the church or even inside) have never been honest. "His personal presence is unimpressive," they had said, "and his speech contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10). In mounting his defense, the apostle graciously replies, "But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things" (2 Corinthians 11:6). It is unlikely that the apostle was unskilled in speech; it is much more likely, considering the results of his preaching in the synagogues, in the streets, in the open forums, and in the churches, that he was a riveting speaker. As far as his knowledge is concerned, perhaps there has never been a more knowledgeable individual than the apostle Paul (other than Jesus, of course). Even the apostle Peter had to confess concerning Paul’s writings, that in them "are some things hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16).
- Money not the object - A reading of the apostle’s defense gives a clear impression that his enemies in Corinth had some sort of "sordid gain" on their minds. Therefore Paul is going to clearly establish that his motive was not monetary, that his intent in preaching is he might "by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). "Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted," he directly challenges his detractors, "because I preached the gospel without charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to serve you" (2 Corinthians 11:7-8). The opposition certainly would not have made those types of demonstrable sacrifices.
The apostle is engaged in a tremendous war for the souls of the saints in Corinth. On the surface, to an uneducated viewer, it might look like some sort of contest, an attempt at "one-upmanship." If, however, the opposition can gain traction in this face off against Paul, they can begin to successfully teach false doctrines and lead the saints down the path to an eventual hell! Paul has to win this one!!
Paul's Handling of Finances
The scripture is clear on this point: if a person cannot be trusted in the use of finances, they cannot be trusted to handle the precious words of life. Love of money is at the core a very spiritual issue, and serves as a barometer of the purity of the character of the individual. "You cannot serve God and mammon," Jesus had plainly said. "Now the Pharisees," Luke recorded, "who were lovers of money, were listening to these things, and they were scoffing at Him" (Luke 16:9-10). When the love of money is a driving force in a person’s life, it blinds him off to important spiritual truths, and short-circuits his thinking processes. "Beware," the Lord had spoken in another place, "and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). The apostle Paul, then, was one who guarded himself against such base motives in preaching the gospel. Whether in Corinth or Ephesus, his character was the same: "I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes" (Acts 20:33). Thus, as he continues his defense of his apostleship to the Corinthian brethren, he brings the financial issue to the fore, and in the process shows the greediness hidden in his enemies working inside the congregation.
- No burden to Corinth - It seems that from the time Paul planted the congregation at Corinth, he knew that money was going to be an issue. "I preached the gospel to you without charge," he had just stated. At first, according to the record in the book of Acts, he supported himself by working as a tentmaker until Silas and Timothy, with money, came down from Macedonia (Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi). "I robbed other churches," he reminds them, "taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone" (2 Corinthians 11:7-9). He is making it pretty clear, with his demonstrable track record, that he did not come for their money but to press the claims of Jesus Christ on their everlasting souls! He worked with his hands when he needed to, and when he could free up his time to do more preaching and teaching, he did so. "For when the brethren from Macedonia came," he recalls, "they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so" (2 Corinthians 11:9).
- His "boasting" - The apostle is reluctantly bringing these financial issues forward to expose his enemies, rather than any attempt to exalt himself. In that spirit, his comments continue, "As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia" (2 Corinthians 11:10). He is not going to allow the "lovers of money and influence" to obscure this issue; it is a character issue, and the enemies simply use the gospel for lining their pockets. "Why?" is he not going to allow this "boasting" to be stopped in the whole region, he asks. "Because I do not love you? God knows I do!" (2 Corinthians 11:11). He loves their eternities, and he knows the lovers of money end up being purveyors of a false gospel. Hence he is going to keep exposing the evildoers.
It is sometimes difficult for the saints to detect the wolves in sheep’s clothing. It takes men like the apostle Paul with the security of knowing the doctrines he preaches and with the unshakeable character to stand up to such entrenched and deceptive opposition. "But what I am doing," he asseverates, "I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting" (2 Corinthians 11:12). Paul is showing that since the opposition could not "put up," they needed to "shut up!!!"
Those who have the faith to the preserving of the soul must fight; they must fight the good fight of faith. The spiritually lazy Christian will end up losing the fight, and will lose his soul to the fires of an eternal hell. One of the reasons for this fight is that Satan has unleashed a tremendous number of false teachers and false preachers who pervert the way of righteousness and subtly or brazenly twist the gospel. The appeals they make to the flesh are many and variegated, but those appeals continue to work because people who are not interested in grappling for the truth are pulled into the various webs of deceit and lies. Such men were working inside the church at Corinth, and the apostle is in the process of exposing them.
- Description of the evil workers - These men inside Corinth had positioned themselves as being better educated than the others, and skilled as Greek teachers. Paul had laid the groundwork for full exposure in his first epistle. "Where is the wise man?" he had rightfully asked. "Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?" (1 Corinthians 1:20). Such disappear at the first blast of truth when it rushes through the door. "Your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men," he averred, "but on the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:5). "Let no man deceive himself," he continued. "If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise" (1 Corinthians 3:18). It was to these that the apostle directly addressed these words: "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him" (1 Corinthians 3:16). For the benefit of the congregation, Paul spells it out in his second epistle. "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:13). Not to be an apostle of Christ, but making bold claim to be one is about as audacious a claim as could be made. There would have to be so much "deceitful working" in order even to begin to carry that off.
- Source of evil - Jesus made it very plain that the devil is "is a liar, and the father of lies" (John 8:44). As the ultimate rebel and enemy of God, he hates mankind and is doing everything possible to send each person to the godless eternity where he is going. So he is capable of getting his lying doctrines in the mouths of the false apostles and deceitful workers. This is sometimes shocking to a new saint trying to process the sweeping reach of the issue of "Truth vs. Lie." "How can these men who are supposed to be men of God knowingly preach false doctrine?" is a question often asked. Paul answers: "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14).
- No surprise - Evil may seem chaotic and working against itself, but it is in fact united in its opposition to truth. Jesus made the point that Satan is not divided against himself; otherwise his kingdom would not stand (Matthew 12:26). The devil is thus capable of many forms of deception, including appearing as an angel of light. "Therefore it is not surprising," the apostle informs the brethren, "if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds" (2 Corinthians 11:15).
Long-term, it is not possible to preach wrong and do right. Anyone who will not preach the apostles’ doctrine has his mind set on the flesh rather than on the Spirit. "The mind set on the flesh," the apostle had pointed out to the brethren in Rome, "is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so" (Romans 8:7). Paul is therefore confident that when the "fruit" of his opposition is placed alongside his, the contrast will be stark and clear. Thus he is not going to back off on his "boasting."
Bearing with Paul
Paul could wield the rod, but he would rather come "with love and a spirit of gentleness" (1 Corinthians 4:21). As he continues to deal with the church in Corinth, his patience is really on display. The congregation, instead of being doctrinally strong, has weakened considerably, putting the eternity of the saints in jeopardy. "If one comes and preaches another Jesus," Paul had pointed out, "you bear this beautifully" (2 Corinthians 11:4). Thus the apostle is having to defend his apostleship and the doctrines he preaches, to expose his opposition, and to get the congregation back on track. So, even if he would rather come with the rod, he is going to talk with love and gentleness, but with some force to his words also.
- "Receive me as foolish" - No one, if speaking honestly, would call Paul "foolish." Even Porcius Festus, governor of the Roman province of Syria with the regional capital at Caesaria, would give this outburst during Paul’s defense before this august Roman court: "Your great learning is driving you mad!" Great learning is not the hallmark of the foolish! Paul, of course, protested that he was not out of his mind, and appealed to King Agrippa about the truthfulness of his testimony, and Agrippa indicated that Paul’s proclamation and defense was a strong driving force for even he, the king, to become a Christian. In his comment to the Corinthians, he thus notes, "Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, that I also may boast a little" (2 Corinthians 11:16). The brethren there were willing to listen to those who preached another Jesus; why could they not take some time to give Paul (even if "foolish") a hearing?
- Indirect approach - As Paul is in the process of defending his apostleship against those who falsely claimed to be apostles, he is going to have to engage in what he calls "boasting." In Paul’s case, it is really not boasting in the sense that he is bragging about himself and making untrue claims. He is just using this terminology to get an open and honest look at what he accomplished in the Lord and how he suffered in the Lord for the gospel, and that this honest look would expose his opposition for the frauds that they actually were. In a somewhat deprecating tone he continues, "That which I am speaking, I am not speaking as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting" (2 Corinthians 11:17). Having begun to stage his forthcoming comments, he adds a couple of stairs leading to his demonstration. "Since many boast according to the flesh, I will also," is one step toward his point (2 Corinthians 11:18). Having introduced this point, he is ready for the next: "For you, being so wise, bear with the foolish gladly" (2 Corinthians 11:19). Now he has them where he wants them! Now they have to listen to Paul, "the foolish."
- A bit of contrast - Oh, those "wise" Corinthians! "For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face. To my shame I must say I have been weak by comparison" (2 Corinthians 11:20-21). What a picture of spiritual abuse that the Corinthians had been willing to accept from false teachers! And likewise what a portrait of how difficult it was for them to listen to Paul, who loved them, who laid the foundation for their faith and the future congregation, and who was still trying to put them on the right path.
The apostle is just about ready to list some of the things he has gone through for the gospel. But he has just one more thing to say before he launches: "But in whatever respect anyone else is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am just as bold myself" (2 Corinthians 11:21). Speak on, Paul, speak on!
Everywhere the apostle Paul traveled, he encountered tremendous opposition to the gospel. Sometimes this opposition was external, and often from the Jews. But sometimes this opposition was internal, inside the congregations themselves, as at Corinth. To defend the gospel of Christ and the doctrines of salvation, the apostle has to defend himself and expose his opposition. "Such men are false apostles," he plainly stated, "deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:13). This is clearly entrenched and powerful opposition, that the claimants would be able to confuse some of the brethren about their being apostles of Christ. Hence Paul is going to challenge these men making such bold claims with some boldness of his own. "But in whatever respect anyone else is bold ... I am just as bold myself" (2 Corinthians 11:21).
- Questions of background - All the apostles of Jesus Christ were descendants of Abraham through Jacob, or sometimes in New Testament times lumped into the general term "Jews." Paul’s questions for his opposition will begin to probe this area of background. "Are they Hebrews?" is the first qualifying question. His response, as expected: "So am I." The second question is for further emphasis: "Are they Israelites?" And his response is the same, "So am I." And another question to press the point home, "Are they descendants of Abraham?" Again his answer is consistent, "So am I" (2 Corinthians 11:22). No one has better credentials than Paul with regard to his ancestry and participation in the laws and customs of his people, from which Jesus chose the apostles.
- General record of his service - Often people speak in terms of a person’s service to his country, or his years of dedication to his job or company. The apostle is going to bring some of his service to his King forward to see if his opposition can match it. "Are they servants of Christ?" he asks. In answer, the apostle again speaks in a deprecating manner concerning himself, clearly wishing he did not have to go down this road of conversation. "(I speak as if insane)," he interjects, then goes on to answer the question about his servanthood to Christ compared to theirs, "I more so." He catalogs a list of areas: "In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death" (2 Corinthians 11:23). These are significant areas of comparison; since the fake apostles are doing what they are doing for earthly gain and fame, they certainly are not going to sacrifice or subject themselves to torture to propagate their message. And each of these areas which Paul puts forward are worthy of a bit more consideration. "Far more labors": Who worked as hard as Paul? And who worked like he did with essentially no earthly return? Not the fakes! "Far more imprisonments": All Paul would have to do to avoid prison would have been to compromise. But there was no compromising the gospel of the glory of the Lord, and thus Paul suffered—not just one, but many—imprisonments. The fakes were liars and compromisers in the first place, so no prison for them! "Beaten times without number": Paul lost count of the number of beatings he had undergone, which is something to contemplate all by itself. The fakes? If they would not go to prison for their beliefs, they certainly would avoid the beatings. The listing by Paul is really overwhelming: far more labors, far more imprisonments, beaten times without number. Then he adds, "often in danger of death." The fakes are long gone before the danger of death for the gospel appears!
The beginning of Paul’s listing of what he went through in order to proclaim the gospel not only silenced his opposition, it subjected them to total humiliation. The goal of such listing was to make sure that no truth-seeker in the midst of the congregation would even countenance the teaching or preaching of such men. The goal, then, was to elevate the Christ of the gospel, rather than glorify the outcast angel who disguised himself as an angel of light through the teachings of these fakes!
More of Paul's Tribulations
The apostle Peter, in his encouragement to the brethren, talked much of suffering in his first epistle. "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh," he posited, "arm yourselves with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1-2). Those who would avoid suffering would also fall for the lusts of men. Hence, as Paul writes to the brethren in Corinth, one of the things he is essentially forced to bring forward is the amount of suffering he had experienced. While he makes it clear that he is not doing this out of arrogance, it becomes evident that in so doing he establishes the purity of his motives. He thus correspondingly exposes the fleshly and sinful motives of his opposition, entrenched so deeply in the congregation at Corinth.
- Physical tortures - The apostle had spoken in general terms about his suffering for the gospel, mentioning that he had experienced far more imprisonments and had been beaten times without number. Now he gets specific: "Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes," he recalls. "Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned" (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). To have received the Jewish lashing—not once, but five times!—all by itself would be a tremendous testimony to Paul’s suffering for the lost and for the sake of the gospel. But added to that was the three-time being beaten with rods, which some sources indicate was worse than the lashing. Plus there was the stoning and being left for dead outside the city of Lystra. The mouths of his opposition should be totally silenced by now.
- Challenges from the elements - In his work of preaching the gospel, Paul planted many congregations. He had to travel considerable distances, probably on foot, to accomplish that. Much additional journeying was required in his follow up visits to those congregations, as well as his continual extending the sphere of his influence throughout the Roman Empire. In the midst of those excursions, God allowed the apostle to experience many of the difficulties that other travelers might suffer through. "Three times I was shipwrecked," he testifies, "a night and a day I have spent in the deep" (2 Corinthians 11:25). God anticipated that Paul’s suffering was going to be necessary in shutting the mouths of his opposition, and therefore allowed him to go through these challenges rather than just giving him "smooth sailing."
- Perils - Everywhere Paul traversed, he was in peril from all sides because of the hostility of the world to the gospel. "I have been on frequent journeys," he begins his listing, "in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren" (2 Corinthians 11:26). Sea-land, city-country, Jew-Gentile—in addition to having dangerous false brethren lurking everywhere. That is a lot of peril.
The personal extremities to which Paul subjected himself also demonstrated that his clear and only desire was to spread the gospel for the sake of converting the lost and conserving the saved. "I have been in labor and hardship," he asseverates, "through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2 Corinthians 11:27). Could any of the fake apostles and false preachers match this?
"But apart from such external things," he superadds, "there is daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" (2 Corinthians 11:28-29). The intense concern of the apostle for each individual soul is apparent in these few verses. The brethren should listen to the instructions and teachings of the apostle, and failing to do so would clearly be the loss of their eternities with Christ.
Further Appeal and Recollection
The apostle Paul laid his life on the line for the souls of the brethren in Corinth, and not only in Corinth but also for all the brethren everywhere he preached. Since he suffered in labors, in imprisonments, beatings, and incarcerations for the sake of their eternities, he naturally is very concerned when even one of the brethren is in danger of losing his salvation because of being sucked back into sin. As he explains, "Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" The battle is not just on an individual basis, but it can be on a larger scale as well. "There is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches," Paul in his integrity had mentioned. This battle against the prince of darkness who can disguise himself as an angel of light is on all fronts at all times. Part of that battle was the war against the character and doctrines of the apostle Paul.
- Back to "boasting" - Paul again goes back to his somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment about his "boasting," and in the process introduces the next phase of his comments originating from this stream. "If I have to boast," he remarks, "I will boast of what pertains to my weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30). What follows, then, is quite a discussion on the "weakness" that Paul experienced in order to keep him from exalting himself. "The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever" says the apostle in all sincerity, "knows that I am not lying" (2 Corinthians 11:31).
- Example - After Paul’s immersion at the hand of Ananias near Damascus, Paul immediately began preaching in the local synagogues. He indicated in his letter to the Galatians that he then went to Arabia for three years, where he apparently was privileged to walk, by direct revelation, through the same events in the earthly sojourn of Jesus that the other apostles experienced directly. Following this he returned to Damascus, where he describes the events there to the Corinthian brethren. "In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands" (2 Corinthians 11:32-33). The language the apostle uses is indicative of what could have happened in Damascus under the king had he not been able to free himself: Paul "escaped his hands!!" Hidden in a basket let through a window in the city wall; how weak is that!
- Awesome revelations - The next item on Paul’s reasoned presentation to the Corinthians has to do with some awesome revelations he received. "Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable," he comments, referring to the fact that the enemies of the gospel pushed him to the point where he has to bring these things up in order to silence the opposition, "but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 12:1). What follows is his statement concerning his being "caught up into Paradise," where he heard inexpressible words and experienced "the surpassing greatness of the revelations."
The experience of being caught up into Paradise was so overpowering and surreal that Paul describes it in almost third person terminology. "Boasting is not profitable," he had introduced this section, "but necessary." Speaking, then, as if the man who saw the visions was another person, the apostle goes back to the "boasting" issue. "On behalf of such a man I will boast," he avers, "but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses" (2 Corinthians 12:5). Can the enemies of the gospel match any of this? Clearly not, and once again their mouths are shut.
Caught up to Paradise?
The apostle Paul stated that he was "caught up into Paradise." This was a rephrasing of his affirmation that he was "caught up to the third heaven." The Jews had three heavens, which the apostle draws upon for his terminology. The first heaven was the skies in which the birds fly, the second was the expanse wherein the sun and stars are located, and the third was where God is located. The question would be whether the term "Paradise" can be more Biblically defined.
The word paradise itself originates in an ancient Iranian language called Avestan, and it means "an enclosed garden" or "garden with a wall." It is easy to see why the translators of the Septuagint would use "paradise" as the name for the original Garden of Eden, and why even in modern terminology "paradise" is sometimes used as the name for the idyllic home for Adam and Eve.
The word of God reveals to all who are interested the answer to the question, "What happens when you die?" To do that, the New Testament writings are going to borrow words from Greek mythology—such as Hades and Tartarus—and redefine them so that they communicate the revelation that can only come from God as to what happens in the realm beyond the grave.
- Going down - The scripture clearly teaches that a human being is comprised of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. "May your spirit and soul and body," the apostle Paul had prayed, "be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). When a person dies, his spirit and soul separate from his physical body. Prior to Jesus’ ascension, the spirit and soul together went "down," as Jacob noted when he thought his son Joseph was dead: "Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son" (Genesis 37:35). Even Jesus "descended into the lower parts of the earth" at His death (Ephesians 4:9).
- Two parts - Old Testament Sheol is termed Hades in the New Testament writings. Jesus gave us a glimpse into how it was when He talked about the rich man and the poor man Lazarus in Luke chapter sixteen. The rich man went into Hades where he described himself "in agony in this flame." Lazarus, however, was pictured in "Abraham’s bosom" and in comfort. This is where Jesus and the "good thief" went (as spirit and soul) when they died, as Jesus stated: "Today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). When Jesus went down to Hades (Acts 2:27), He went to the comfortable part, and gave it the term Paradise.
- "Down" to "up" - The spirits and souls of the saints in the good portion of Hades were still in captivity; without Jesus’ resurrection and ascension they would have been trapped. The apostle Paul quoted somewhat loosely from the Old Testament psalmist who looked to Jesus’ ascension, noting "when He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men" (Ephesians 4:8). Jesus Himself described this most personal event in these terms to the apostle John, saying, "I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Revelation 1:17-18). With the "keys of death and Hades" Jesus was able to arrange a sort of jail-break for those held captive, and He thus led that "captivity captive" into Paradise with Him at His ascension.
What was once down prior to Jesus’ ascension is now up! The wicked ones up to that time, and even now, are suffering in agony in the flames of Hades. But the saints of God, the redeemed, are now up, "absent from the body" but "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). Hence, in the extremely awesome visions that Paul had, wherein he heard those "inexpressible words," he described himself as "caught up into Paradise." May each saint of God remain focused and faithful, so that at his passing from this life, he too may enter into that Paradise, waiting spirit
The Thorn in the Flesh
The enemies of Paul in the church at Corinth were using every possible technique to attack him, and thus attack the doctrines he preached. Therefore the apostle has to go to some extremes to assure honest readers that he is not arrogant or puffed up as some of the Corinthian opposition were. After describing some of his sufferings on behalf of the gospel, he then described how he was "caught up into Paradise." Paul by his own efforts could never accomplish that; it took a special act of God’s favor for that to happen. Consequently, Paul responds to his critics with these words, "On behalf of such a man I will boast."
The apostle had introduced this section of his discourse with the comment that "boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable." The recalcitrant Corinthians had forced him to go this far in a major effort to save their everlasting souls. "For if I do wish to boast I shall not be foolish," he adds to the discussion, "for I shall be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one may credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me" (2 Corinthians 12:6). Contrary to his blustering, high profile, puffed up opposition, the apostle is willing to let people have an honest look into his life!
- Side consequence of great revelations - The apostle Paul had just mentioned how he was caught up to the third heaven and heard inexpressible words. This, of course, would serve as a tremendous positive picture and encouragement for him, enabling him to go through the challenging persecutions he would continue to suffer for the gospel. It was very clear and real to him, as he stated it to the Philippians, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). But there was a side consequence to his having participated in such great visions. "And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations," he continues his commenting, "for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself" (2 Corinthians 12:7).
- The thorn in the flesh - There has been much conjecture on this thorn in Paul’s flesh, as to what it might be. Some have thought it might be an eye problem (which there are indications that he could not see well), or problems with guys like Alexander the coppersmith, who, as Paul stated, "did me much harm" (2 Timothy 4:14). The apostle clearly points out that it was "a messenger of Satan." It is this author’s perspective that this messenger (who delivers messages), this "thorn in the flesh," was a demonic voice that would never let Paul forget that he was involved in the stoning of Stephen and was a ferocious persecutor of the church. Whatever it was, it would not go away! And its purpose was to keep Paul from exalting himself.
- Paul’s entreaties - This thorn in the flesh, as the apostle described the messenger from Satan, was obviously bothersome in a major degree. "Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me," he informs the brethren. "And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’" (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). The apostle was a servant of the Lord, as are modern saints. If the Lord would not remove this "thorn in the flesh" for the apostle, because the Lord had a different strategy in mind, then it is not surprising if the Lord will not always remove "thorns in the flesh" for modern saints either.
Whether it was the apostle Paul or whether it is one of the modern saints, the key is to continue to trust that God knows what He is doing. God is clearly involved, as in the case of Paul, with each of His children of faith on a personal basis and is working in each Christian’s life. When difficulties come, as they will, it is critical that the brother or sister move forward, walking by faith and not by sight. "Be faithful until death," said the kind and loving Savior, "and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
Power is Perfected in Weakness
It is natural that mankind in general would like things to go smoothly, for health to be perfect, and there be no problems. That, however, is not how taking the form of a bond-servant, could not escape having to deal with these, neither could the apostle Paul. Paul had been stoned, shipwrecked, flogged, forced to flee, beaten, and burdened, and the faithful Lord stood with Him through all these. But when it came to his asking the Almighty to remove the "thorn in the flesh" which plagued him, there was no deliverance. This was to keep Paul from exalting himself, and, in the Lord’s far-seeing strategy, that the brethren could not honestly accuse him of being arrogant.
- God’s grace is sufficient - If any saint’s prayers should be answered with "yes," it should be the apostle Paul. If any dedicated Christian’s entreaties, a three-time pleading no less, should have been given a positive response, it should be the apostle Paul. But he himself records the Lord’s reply, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Again, grace here is being used in a broader sense than God’s gracious remission of man’s sins. In this case, it has to do with God’s providing Paul with the necessary means of coping with his thorn in the flesh.
- Power perfected in weakness - God listed the reason why He was not going to remove the thorn in the flesh with a paradoxical statement: "Power is perfected in weakness." Since it was God’s grace that was sufficient, it is clear that the power is going to be God’s which was working through Paul’s weakness. Earlier, the apostle had made the statement that "we have this treasure [a reference to the indwelling Spirit] in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:7). When Paul has to face, in addition to the external difficulties experienced in preaching the gospel, the personal challenge of an unrelenting thorn in the flesh, the power clearly has to be from God and will be recognized as such by the unbiased observer. God’s power is thus perfected through personal weakness!
- More "boasting" - Once the apostle understood the purpose of the weakness, then he could be content in it. As he puts it to the brethren in Corinth, the sympathetic and the unsympathetic, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Where are Paul’s opposition in terms of their equality on this? Where are their "thorns in the flesh?" This is why Paul is "boasting" about this weakness, because in God’s strategy it exposes his fleshly-minded opponents for the frauds that they are. The power working in Paul is the great and mighty and awesome Spirit of God!
- For Christ’s sake - The power of Christ within is not obvious, and not generally perceived by those who are not spiritually trained and who are not aware of how God works to accomplish His purpose. He is in the process of sorting out those who truly have the faith necessary to the saving of the soul from those who do not. Hence the paradoxes. "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses," says the understanding apostle, "with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). Yes indeed; that’s how it works in the spiritual realm.
Christianity wins because, in spite of all the apparent advantages wickedness has, good overcomes evil. The word of the gospel is spread by those individual saints who keep preaching regardless of the fact that there might be a sword to their throats. It’s God’s power rather than human power that only becomes evident in these types of tests, and the spiritually interested take note. The others don’t care.
I Should Have Been Commended
O Corinthians, how much does Paul have to go through before you listen and quit your divisive and destructive actions? O saints at Corinth, what more does the apostle have to list in his personal privations, including his "thorn in the flesh," before his teachings and personal example are relevant? How many more "insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties" will Paul have to "boast" about before you yield to the will of Him whom Paul represents? O modern "church goer," how much does Paul have to record before you listen and quit your divisive and destruction actio and personal example are relevant? How much more cataloging of his trials and travail are you going to have to examine before you yield to the will of Him whom Paul represents?
- Compelled foolishness - For a considerable section of this epistle, the apostle has been apologetic, in a sense, for having to bring forth the things out of his personal life as a demonstration of his personal humility before God and his earnest and true desire for the Corinthians’ salvation. "I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness," said he, as he introduced this section on sound doctrine and exposure of the angel of darkness and his deceptive ministers. "Boasting is necessary," he brings forth, "but not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord." Thus, as he finishes talking about his thorn in the flesh, he adverts, "I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me" (2 Corinthians 12:11). What the apostle Paul endured, and what has been recorded for our benefit, stands as a great challenge to anyone today who would begin to complain in the hearing of the Lord about his personal difficulties and mistreatment at the hands of others. Thus his compelled "foolishness" has long-term edification and motivation value.
- Proper commendation - The apostle had obviously been driven to great lengths to defend his apostleship, the doctrines he preached, and his character in the sight of God. "What I am doing," he had averred, "I am doing that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are." In the process the false apostles, deceitful workers, and fake ministers of Christ were exposed. The Corinthians should have recognized the difference, and should have had the proper approbation of Paul. "Actually," he remarks, "I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, though I am a nobody" (2 Corinthians 12:11). Paul was not inferior to Peter or John, or anyone else "of reputation." He had made it clear in his first epistle that he "was untimely born," meaning that he became an apostle later and outside regular channels. In fact, he noted that he was "least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle," because he persecuted the church of God. In that context, then, he states that "I am a nobody."
- Proof of apostleship - Paul’s equality with any of the apostles could be, and had been, demonstrated. Early on in his first letter, he pointed out that his message and his preaching "were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." He did not resort to reasoning from human philosophy as the Greeks did; he simply cast out demons and healed the sick as a demonstration that his testimony concerning the risen Christ was true. "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you," he reminds them, "with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles" (2 Corinthians 12:12).
The clear legacy of the apostle Paul lasts today. His life, his sufferings, his patience, his perseverance, and his teachings all communicate to the serious disciple of Christ what it means to be a Christian. Who will listen? And who will follow? "Be imitators of me," he had exhorted in his earlier epistle, "just as I also am of Christ."
Reaffirming His Love
"You love brother more than me," is a fairly typical human outcry. It is not necessarily based on truth, but it is a very powerful manipulative technique that has worked for every generation of the squalling descendants of Adam. The church at Corinth—fleshly, divisive, quarrelsome, selfish—unfortunately was no exception. In addition to the apostle Paul’s care in wording as he "boasted" about his accomplishments and suffering in the Lord, he also had to reaffirm his love for them. As he had explained in his first epistle, "I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1).
- Care of an apostle - No apostle had been to Rome at the time that letter was written. But Corinth should recognize how privileged it was that Paul had started the congregation. He, as a wise master builder, was the one who laid the foundation. As an apostle, he had the ability to pass on spiritual gifts through the laying on of his hands, and he had reminded the church that "the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you," and that they were "not lacking in any gift" (1 Corinthians 1:6-7). Thus in the second epistle he stresses that "the signs of a true apostle were performed among you." For their benefit, for the salvation of their eternal souls, "signs and wonders and miracles" demonstrated through the apostle Paul the truthfulness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. (Of course, the ones who were making false claims to apostleship could not perform such a wide range of miraculous events.) The congregation at Corinth should have realized how special it was, and the kind of special care it was given since its formation.
- Treated as inferior? - The apostle is therefore justified in asking this question: "For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches?" (2 Corinthians 12:13). The obvious answer was that they were not in any way handled as second class citizens of the kingdom. However, the apostle throws in a little sarcasm, with a snarkey added clause: "except that I myself did not become a burden to you." In other words, Paul did not take any money from the congregation, and if they wanted to regard that as being treated as inferior, they could. More snarkiness: "Forgive me this wrong!"
- Seeking their souls - After making his comments about not having burdened them in the past, he reassures them about his motives in his future return to visit the congregation. "Here for this third time I am ready to come to you," he affirms, "and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you" (2 Corinthians 12:14). He wasn’t coming for their money; he was coming for their everlasting souls!
- Spiritual parenting - The apostle Paul occasionally would use the relationship of parents to children to portray his love and care. To the church in Thessalonica he wrote, "We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children" (1 Thessalonians 2:7). "We were encouraging you and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children," he also illustrated (1 Thessalonians 2:11). To the brethren, then, in Corinth, he would communicate, "Children are not responsible to save for their parents, but parents for their children. And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls" (2 Corinthians 12:14-15). It always comes back to saving their souls.
In modern society, love is something to be felt. That is not true, of course, but that is the prevailing culture; in consequence, many congregations try to create an atmosphere where people "feel" loved. Well, the congregation in Corinth certainly wasn’t "feeling the love" from Paul, but in a very deep way he demonstrated that he was the one with true love for them. "If I love you the more," he in hopefulness queried, "am I to be loved the less?" This is a question that rings down through the centuries.
It is clear from Paul’s writing that he, from the beginning of his preaching in Corinth, had to be careful how he handled things. Take money, for example. He accepted financial assistance from other congregations such as Philippi, but not from Corinth. He had an idea from the outset that there were elements in the congregation that were money-driven and would use anything they could to destroy Paul’s reputation and influence. Hence, as he put it, using a little hyperbole, "I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to serve you" (2 Corinthians 11:8). To communicate more clearly how he desired nothing from them, he emphasized, "I will not be a burden to you." Restating his point in terms of finances, he animadverted, "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls!"
- "Crafty fellow" - The apostle is going "overboard" to communicate his love for them, his warnings about false apostles and false teachers, and his desire for their proper eternities. "If I love you the more," he had just stated, "am I to be loved the less?" Then he goes back to his topic of not being a financial burden to them. "But be that as it may," he remarks, referring to the question of whether they loved him, "I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit" (2 Corinthians 12:16). The "deceit" to which he is looking back is his "not taking wages from them" and "robbing other churches" in order to preach the gospel without charge; in other words, he was busy bringing the words of eternal life to them and not making any mention that this all cost money and time. The "crafty fellow" had a good premonition that money was going to be a big issue with some of them when he first started preaching to them.
- No advantage taken - Not only did Paul not accept any financial gifts from them directly, he did not use secondary people to wrangle "lucre" from them either. "Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I?" (2 Corinthians 12:17). The apostle knew they could not document any such "advantage" because there was none. "I urged Titus to go," he notes, referring back to his discussing how he had sent Titus to check on their spiritual welfare, "and sent the brother with him" [an unnamed fellow worker who had come with Titus]. "Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?" (2 Corinthians 12:17). Those were rhetorical questions, to which the only honest answer could be that no one, Paul or otherwise, was trying to filch money out of the Corinthians’ pockets.
Paul, the "crafty fellow," is being indirect in his approach to the brethren; their sensitivities on these issues is pretty clear from the way he introduces the things he wants to bring forward. "All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you," he commented, leading into the idea that this had not been his major purpose. If they had processed a little deeper, they would have remembered from his first epistle that he had informed them that "it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court" (1 Corinthians 4:3). He was very conscious that his stewardship of the mysteries of Christ was to God, and to God he would answer. Compared to that, the Corinthians’ opinion of him did not matter. "Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ," he openly states, "and all for your upbuilding, beloved!" (2 Corinthians 12:19). The logical process is clear; he was confident of his standing with the Lord, and therefore with no need to defend himself to the Corinthians. His goal, then, consistent with everything else he had said along the way, was for their edification and salvation!
I Am Afraid
Communication, in the days of Paul, by comparison to our own times, was very difficult. Until the invention of the telegraph in the 1800’s, letters had to be carried over difficult muddy and rocky roads, or across sea and ocean by ship. Hence, it was challenging to maintain the contact necessary for good understanding and for updates on changing conditions. The apostle, therefore, did not know exactly what conditions were inside the congregation at Corinth without being physically there, and was concerned about what reception he would receive at his arrival.
- Wrong perceptions - Paul believed he had communicated as clearly as possible about his character and intentions. Concerning any of his detractors, in an effort to forestall any deliberate confusion, he had stated, "Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present" (2 Corinthians 10:11). In addition to stressing the consistency of his own character, he had called the destructive elements within the congregation to repentance, and was hopeful that such repentance had indeed occurred. As he prepares the congregation for his coming visitation, he remarks, "For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish" (2 Corinthians 12:20). His hope, of course, is that this not be the case.
- Descent to deeds of the flesh - In his first epistle to the congregation, the apostle Paul had upbraided the people for being carnal rather than spiritual. "I could not speak to you as to spiritual men," he had noted, "but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1). "Since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3). Part of his goal in writing these two epistles had been to call them to repentance, and to move them over to a position where they had some spiritual maturity and could be reasoned with at a more mature level. "I am afraid," says he in his second epistle, "that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances." Such character flaws are clearly the result of individuals’ having their minds set on the things of the flesh rather than on the things of the spirit. And these exhibitions are just as sinful as adultery and carousing, and will result in the supposed saint’s finding himself in the fires of hell rather than the courts of glory.
- Possibility of Paul’s mourning - It is worth remembering that Paul laid down his life for the eternal salvation of these brethren; he earnestly desired their salvation and loved their eternal souls. Faced with the possibility of their lack of repentance, he expresses his concern: "I am afraid," he again stresses, "that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality, and sensuality which they have practiced" (2 Corinthians 12:21). For Paul to use the word "mourning" in the description of what his feelings would be if they had not repented gives a clear picture of how much he cared.
The potential for strife and angry tempers to arise in connection with Paul’s coming to Corinth is also an indication of the intensity of the spiritual warfare each individual saint faces in his own life. When pressures cause such things as arrogance, slanders, and disturbances to arise, there is a definite lack of true spirituality on the part of the individual, and he can either deal with it or ignore it. Of course, if he ignores these danger signals about his personal spiritual life and rationalizes his behavior, then an eternity away from the presence of the Lord awaits him. The message from scripture is still clear: repent, turn from your wicked ways, and follow the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!
Confirming Every Fact
How does a leader like the apostle Paul handle issues such as strife in the midst of the congregation? How can he deal with the underlying jealousy that would drive so many hidden agendas? What can he do about the angry tempers, slanders, or the gossip? How can he call to account those who are arrogant, and those who create disputes and cause disturbances? How can he help those who are not repentant, who have not dealt with the impurity, immorality, and the sensuality in their own lives? (And we moderns are so thankful those were first century church problems and that we do not have to deal with them in the twenty-first century!)
- The third time - In his first epistle, the apostle had asked the brethren in Corinth what approach he should use in his coming to visit the congregation. "Shall I come to you with a rod," he had proposed, "or with love and a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Corinthians 4:21). But because some saints in the local church had not been obedient, the apostle is going to have to be even more direct as he prepares to spend time with the congregation. "This is the third time I am coming to you," he warns. "Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses," as was God’s prescribed manner of determining innocence or guilt in the fairness of the Law (2 Corinthians 13:1). His authority has been challenged. His apostleship has been questioned. "His letters are weighty and strong," had been stated, "but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10). This, he says, is his third time to come, and it is clear that the apostle will face his accusers and will get to the facts by witnesses if necessary. It was not a personal matter; it had to do with the fact that souls were being misdirected by fleshly opposition, and the apostle has to clear things up so that truth-seekers among the congregation could see the way of salvation clearly.
- No exceptions - The apostle had to handle similar issues in his previous visit. As he put it, he was afraid that some of the brethren had not really taken the results of his previous meeting to heart, and that he might have to "mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and have not repented." Thus he comments, "I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again, I will not spare anyone" (2 Corinthians 13:2). They were going to have to face Paul, and as he noted earlier, "what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present" (2 Corinthians 10:11). The rod? Or love, and a spirit of gentleness? Their choice!
- Seeking proof - Clearly there were false apostles and deceitful workers working among the saints. They were lying about their relationship to Jesus, the Head of the church, and therefore were essentially bluffing as they called into question Paul’s position in the body of Christ. "I will not spare anyone," the true apostle avers, "since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you" (2 Corinthians 13:3). He had reminded them that "the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles" (2 Corinthians 12:12). He has all the authority of Christ backing him; the proof will be there.
The Christ who was speaking through Paul was (and is) indeed mighty—crucified, risen from the dead, glorified, exalted as Prince and Savior! That same Christ then was mighty toward the brethren, calling them to repentance or fierce judgment. But He was also mighty in them, giving them the power to overcome through His indwelling Spirit. That, therefore, was the encouragement the apostle hoped to bring, and that the changes of heart and action would ensue. Modern brethren: take note!
Weakness vs. Power
The Christ who spoke through the apostle Paul was indeed mighty. He is often described as the Mighty God. "The Mighty One, God," said the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad, appealing to their brethren in Israel that they did not intend to cause a separation in Israel after taking the promised land, "the Lord, the Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows" (Joshua 22:22). And very often the expression, "the mighty hand" of God is used (Deuteronomy 26:8). "Who is this who comes from Edom," is the question from a vision of Isaiah, similar to the angel of the Lord’s appearing in the days of Judges and coming from Gilgal up to Bochim, "with garments of flowing colors from Bozrah, the One who is majestic in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength?" Thence cometh the answer: "It is I who speak in righteousness," saith the Lord, "mighty to save!" (Isaiah 63:1). "The Christ who speaks in me," thus animadverted the apostle Paul, "is mighty,"—mighty toward the Corinthians, and mighty in the Corinthians.
- The weakness of Christ on display - Jesus was the most humble of all, leaving the glories of heaven and becoming a little lower than the angels. "He emptied Himself," Paul had commented, "taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). In the process of "being found in appearance as a man," He was tempted in all points as are all mankind, and was subjected to the most human thing of all: physical death! "He humbled Himself," the apostle had re-emphasized, "by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 3:8). Having divested Himself of any character advantage over the human race, and having taken the form of mortal man, He was in a state that could be described as "weakness," as contrasted to His power in glory. "For indeed He was crucified because of weakness," is the apostle’s commentary to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 13:4). This, then, was the weakness of Christ on display for the benefit and edification of the truth-seekers among men. And in this weakness, He was in no position to save anyone!
- The power of God - But Christ did not stay dead. "It was impossible for Him," the apostle Peter had said at the first preaching of the gospel, to be held in death’s power (Acts 2:24). And in being raised from the dead, He put an end to the agony of death, and began to open the way to eternal life. Jesus is often described, in His current glorified state, as dead to sin, and alive to God (Romans 6:10). "The life that He lives," is the affirmation of Paul, "He lives to God" (Romans 6:10). Generally, then, when the life of Jesus is spoken of, it is a reference to His life in glory! "For indeed He was crucified because of weakness," is Paul’s continuing observation, "yet He lives because of the power of God." God certainly exhibited much power in the creation, but that is paltry compared to the power He used in raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him as forever alive on the throne!
In his earlier "boasting" to the Corinthians, in an effort to get them to open their hearts wide to him and to process the important things concerning their salvation, the apostle had spoken of his weaknesses. One of those was his "thorn in the flesh," and in this trial one of the things he increasingly learned was that God’s "power is perfected in weakness." As he nears the conclusion of this second epistle to the Corinthian brethren, he then makes application of the principles connected with weakness and power. "For we are weak in Him," Paul says, ascribing this to himself and the other apostles, "yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you." The power that raised Jesus from the dead was the same power that would enable the apostles to be resurrected and live with God forever. But an additional key point was that this same power was directed toward the salvation and conservation of the Corinthians’ eternal souls. Would they heed?
Run This Test!
Most people don’t like tests. Some people get nervous, and some even use the expression, "I don’t test well." But tests are necessary; without testing it cannot be known whether a product will perform as expected, or whether it will fail the purchaser after it has gone on the market. Modern "apps" (applications for cell phones, computers, etc.—terminology which would not have been even comprehensible 30 years ago at the time of this writing) often run "beta" versions as tests in the market before full release so that "bugs" in the programming can be exposed. Even the faith of saints needs tested: "Consider it all joy, my brethren," was James’ exordium, "when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2-3). Tests are not only necessary, but, with the proper adjustment of perspective, a source of joy!
- Test yourselves - Paul’s ultimate concern for the brethren in Corinth is their eternities. He has repeatedly stated that his efforts are for their souls. His exposure of the false apostles and deceitful doctrines was for their souls. His chronicling of his suffering was for their souls. His projected coming for the third time would be for their souls. It is fitting, then, that he should challenge them in a positive and caring fashion about the condition of their souls. "Test yourselves," he exhorts, "to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5). There is such a thing as the faith. It is sometimes termed as the faith of Christ or the apostles’ doctrine. It is comprised of the entire body of teaching that is necessary for the salvation and maintenance of the souls of saints, including how they are to function within the body of Christ. A person enters into Christ and the faith of Christ at his immersion into Christ. But he has to maintain that faith and grow in that faith or he will suffer shipwreck of faith. The apostle is making an earnest appeal, because of all the false doctrines and schismatic pressures in Corinth, for each of them to run the scriptural test to see if each is still in the faith of the new covenant.
- Positive results - There are some ways that a Christian could perform this examination upon himself: Am I faithful in the assemblies of the saints, and participating honestly in the Lord’s Supper? Am I praying to the Father, and faithfully reading and processing His word? Am I honestly attempting to walk in the footsteps of Christ, conscious that I am strengthened by His Spirit? Am I seeking for opportunity to engage the lost in serious study of the Bible? Am I making efforts to encourage the saints? Am I paying attention to the doctrines being preached and taught in the congregation, and am I comparing them to the whole message of the word of God? Am I deepening my family relationships based on the scripture? Am I exhibiting the love and patience that God would have me to exhibit? These are good starter questions. "Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?" And this is what always is and always will be the ultimate test: Is Jesus Christ truly in me, as defined by the objective standard of the word of God?
Only those who are in the faith of Christ at the end of their lives will pass through the gates of glory; all who fail the test will howl in hell. This indeed is the test worth passing. "But I trust that you will realize," Paul says to the brethren concerning himself and the other apostles, "that we ourselves do not fail the test" (2 Corinthians 13:6). The apostles were chosen by Jesus Himself, and were tested and trusted men. Hence Paul could say with absolute confidence that he and the others were continually facing the faith challenges in front of them victoriously, and their honest desire was that the saints in Corinth and in all the churches in all generations would likewise victoriously overcome.
For the Truth
Most earthly parents want their children to do what is right. Certainly the heavenly Father wants all men to do right, and even gives them a second opportunity to get it right after failure on their first attempt. The apostle Paul, in parallel fashion, regards the saints in Corinth as his spiritual children, and he wants them to believe and do right. In writing his letter to Philemon, church leader in Colossae, concerning the run-away slave Onesimus, Paul comments, "I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment" (Philemon 1:10). The slave was taught the gospel and was immersed under Paul’s tutelage, and hence regarded as his "child." Paul’s appeal was that Philemon would give this formerly rebellious slave another opportunity to do right.
- Do no wrong - Paul had written about his love for the Corinthian brethren, illustrating it in a variety of ways. He had also demonstrated his love for them by his suffering and sacrifice on their behalf. He is concerned that when he arrives for his third visit that there will be "strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances ..." (2 Corinthians 12:22). So, he prays. "Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved" (2 Corinthians 13:7). Clearly, the apostle is consistently self-effacing and concerned totally about the brethren and their eternities. He is willing to "appear unapproved" if the saints in Corinth could at least start believing and acting like saints!
- Truth again - Paul’s faith, Paul’s character, and Paul’s desire to stand for the truth had been tested many times over, as had the other apostles. These consistencies were not going to change simply because he was encountering Corinthian Christians. "For we can do nothing against the truth," he posits, "but only for the truth" (2 Corinthians 13:8). Regardless of how "unapproved" Paul’s actions may look from the perspective of the brethren being reproved and encouraged, he—as demonstrated by his tested character—could only act in a way that furthered the truth of the gospel and the spiritual edification of the brethren.
- Their "complete-ness" - In every respect, Paul and those who truly labored for the gospel repeatedly demonstrated their self-sacrificing attitudes. "For we rejoice," says he, inspired by the Holy Spirit, showing that this statement is not mere puffery, "when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete" (2 Corinthians 13:9). In statement after statement the apostle is making it clear to these wobbly brethren that he and his fellow apostles and proclaimers are willing to be weak that the others might be strong. He wants them to be perfected, to come to the point where they could be partakers of the divine nature.
- Building up - Paul has been as gentle as he can be with the false apostles, the back-biters, the whiners and complainers, the slanderers, and the whisperers in the congregation. He has made it plain that he is coming in person shortly, and wants things straightened out when he arrives. "For this reason I am writing these things when absent," he explains, "in order that when present I may not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me, for building up and not tearing down" (2 Corinthians 13:10). The apostle Paul had the exousia, the extreme and same authority that Jesus referenced about Himself in giving the great commission in Matthew 28:18. If he has to use severity, he will; but his goal at every point is the building up of the brethren.
The question from the first epistle is still on the table: "Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Corinthians 4:21). Paul clearly has enough authority to go either way, depending upon the Corinthian’s choices. Whatever they choose, Paul will do the right thing. "We can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth!"
Coming to a Close
Paul has authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. This authority emanates from the King over the church, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In reminding the rebellious brethren of Corinth of this authority, he had stated, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you" (2 Corinthians 12:12). The false apostles—those who were making a claim to apostleship among them—could in no way demonstrate any authority or divine inspiration in teaching the gospel of God. Authority and power can only be entrusted to those with the character to use them properly, as the British statesman Lord Acton noted, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Paul’s character had been tested to extremities that most Christians would never know; he had listed some of the beatings, whippings, stoning, and dangers he had been through without compromising his character or the truth of the gospel message. His authority, then, could be used for tearing things down—causing disruption and disorder of every kind, and scattering Christians as spiritual carnage all over the landscape (as some were attempting to do). But Paul worked too hard and the cost of their souls to him had been too high for him to behave in that fashion. He is going to use that authority for "building up and not tearing down."
- A list of appeals - As this letter comes to a close, the apostle makes some earnest, pithy appeals for their focus and behavior (2 Corinthians 13:11). Rejoice – He wants them to get out of whatever doldrums they might have been in, and put on their happy faces! Be made complete – The brethren were to allow the gospel of glory to work within them; they were to behold the face of Christ in the mirror of the word and be transformed into that same image. Be comforted – This epistle started with Paul’s talking about his being comforted/encouraged through tremendous suffering—as he put it, "we even despaired of life" (2 Corinthians 1:8). But this same comfort/encouragement was available to the brethren in Corinth as well. Be like-minded – The congregation had been really divided, really split into factions. Here the apostle goes back to a theme he expressed early in his first epistle: "Be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). Live in peace - "You are still fleshly," Paul had stated in his first letter to these brethren. "For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3). The apostle at the close of this second epistle appeals to them to grow and to "live in peace" rather than in their destructive strife and jealousy. A promise – After giving the above list, the apostle and the Holy Spirit offer a promise: if the brethren would implement those things in their lives, "the God of love and peace shall be with you!" And what a promise! Where else in this wicked world could a person really experience true love and the peace that surpasses understanding!!
- Closing greetings - As Paul is about to finish out this intense letter, he closes with his standard but sincere and meaningful greetings. "Greet one another with a holy kiss," he says (2 Corinthians 13:12). Certainly if there is any kissing done, it should be holy! There should be no deception or "fakeyness" in the brethren’s greeting one another, according to the custom of the time and culture. He then adds, "All the saints greet you" (2 Corinthians 13:13). Paul is writing from Macedonia, and sends these greetings from the brethren in Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica.
Paul’s closing thrust is succinct, but powerful. The saints at Corinth would do well to heed his words, not only for their personal souls but for the blessing that would come to the congregation as a whole. Thus it was, and so it is!
Weakness vs. Power - Part 2
There are myriads of details in the scriptures. They are all important, in varying degrees of implementation and/or priority, but at some point each detail is of critical importance in the plan and revelation of God, as Jesus noted in His quotation from Deuteronomy: "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). But once in a while, it is important to be able to step back and get a broader picture of the scriptures and the revealed character of God. One of those broad pictures, a grand view indeed, is manifested in Paul’s magnificent finish to his second letter to the Corinthian brethren. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:14).
- Grace of the Lord Jesus - The term grace here is a sweeping term as another name for the new covenant of Christ. This system of thought is called the faith of Christ in some contexts, contrasting it to the law of Moses. There is no grace in law; hence the grace of God is really only manifested under the terms of the new covenant. "For the Law was given through Moses," was one of the apostle John’s opening statements in his gospel account, "grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). This grace opened the way of salvation to the Jew in the first place, and then was extended to the Gentile later. This grace is the source of all good things, especially in the realm of the spiritual, the realm of the unseen.
- The love of God - This topic, the love of God, is all by itself the greatest and most magnificent theme. Since "God is love," what could be more magnificent than that? And how many ways could this facet of God be treated? God’s love for man would certainly be one. The love of God toward man demonstrated through Christ’s being sacrificed on lost man’s behalf would be another. A third aspect would be that the love of God can be generated, through the Holy Spirit and holy scriptures, in the redeemed for lost men and for the saints.
- The fellowship of the Holy Spirit - What a fellowship, indeed! Properly understood, those who have been called out of darkness by the word which the Holy Spirit wrote are among the most awesome beings ever created. What distinguishes them from any other of the created host of heaven is that they are these spiritual beings by choice, having chosen to be born again, to be born of the Spirit. These constitute the "council of the holy ones," who fear the Lord, made holy by His Holy Spirit (Psalm 89:7). These are those of whom it is prophesied: "This will be written for the generation to come; that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord" (Psalm 102:1). These are those who are strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man; these are those who walk by the Spirit rather than by the flesh; these are those who are guaranteed the proper resurrection by being sealed with the Spirit. No one else participates in this "fellowship of the Spirit."
As the apostle Paul closes this second recorded epistle to the shattered brethren in Corinth, this is his appeal to God for the unity of the brethren in spiritual fashion. To a congregation that may still be mired in impurity, immorality, and sensuality, this is a prayer that the grace of God may help lift them out. For those whose hearts have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, creating strife and fostering jealousy, the petition is that the love of God might enable them to rise out of such depths. And to the brethren who have sunk into angry tempers, slanders, disputes, gossip, and arrogance, the pleading is for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to enable them to lay those aside and put on a heart of compassion and real intersection of lives toward one another.
Modern brethren would do well to participate in all three of these major points as well!!