June 8, 2018
General Remarks on Second Corinthians
The name, "Second Corinthians" implies that there is a "First Corinthians,” and that there is a link between the two. 2 Corinthians is, therefore, a follow up to 1 Corinthians, in which Paul chastised the Church for theological, practical, and moral errors. The Corinthians’ primary errors were attempts to transform Christians into something more like the religions they claim to have been converted from. The Jews wanted it to be more like traditional Judaism, complete with all the dietary laws and ceremonies of the Old Testament. The more numerous Greeks wanted it to be more like the pagan religions, emphasising Greek philosophy and ecstatic experiences. Doctrine and morality became meaningless in this setting. The primary matter, from the Jewish side, was to keep the ceremonies and worship Christ as the Messiah. The primary objective on the Greek side was to have emotional experiences as often as possible. The more one has them, the more "spiritual" one is considered. So the experience becomes the "be all, end all" of Christianity, and they spare no effort working themselves into such an emotional frenzy they lose control of their mouths and babble meaningless noises. Drugs and alcohol are often used to induce this altered mental state, which may partly explain why they are getting drunk at the Lord's Table.
First Corinthians was a stern rebuke of their errors, to which the Corinthians responded by a valiant attempt to return to Biblical morality. They even excommunicated those who would not repent with them. But many of their moral problems and questions about doctrine and practice remain, and Paul is led by the Spirit to write another letter to the Church. The letter is written while Paul is in Macedonia during his third missionary journey in the year 56 or 57 A.D.
1 Corinthians 1
Having received the first letter from Paul, the church did some house cleaning and made a valiant effort to return to the Apostolic faith and order. The problems, and the false doctrines and teachers that cause them, still remain, however, and Paul writes to help the Church understand and obey the truth.
He begins, as he usually does, by authenticating that the letter is from him, and reminding them again of his Apostolic calling and authority. Many in the Church are following other teachers, and many of them are very contemptuous of Paul and the simple Gospel he preaches. The Greeks want something more exciting, more experiential, and much less concerned about doctrine and morality. They much prefer the practices of the Greek pagan religions, and the oratory and speculations of Greek philosophers. They would much rather feel like Christians than be Christians. Jewish converts continue to press for a more Jewish Church. There is also a group which is attempting to merge pagan religion and Judaism, and Christianity into one religion. This group is growing rapidly in Asia and Greece. Its traveling preachers often come into cities just after Paul leaves, targeting the new Churches and still immature Christians. They will later become known as gnostics, and their blend of religions will be known as gnosticism.
Achaia is the Roman name for southern Greece. Paul greets all the saints in that province, showing his intent that this letter be shared with all of them.
Verse 2 is not a mere customary greeting. It is Paul’s heartfelt hope and prayer for the Corinthians, and all people. Grace is the forgiveness of sins, and the good will of God expressed in Christ and in the means of grace. Peace is the result of the grace of God in your life.
Verses 3-11 thank God for preserving Paul, and his fellow evangelists, through the many afflictions he has suffered in his efforts to preach the Gospel. At the same time, they remind the Corinthians that he has suffered, and suffered terribly because of his preaching. Have the false teachers suffered? No. Why? Because they preach what people want to hear. They give people an easy gospel that requires no repentance or holiness, and gives excitement and worldliness instead. Such “preachers” never suffer. They always receive the favour and money of the masses. Paul is not defeated or silenced by opposition. He suffers for, and, in a sense, with Christ. He does not suffer with Christ redemptively, as Christ did by bearing our sins. He suffers with Christ by enduring affliction in the cause of Christ. As Christ suffered to purchase our salvation, Paul suffer to proclaim it (5, 6).
We would think Paul would give up on the Corinthians. Having lived with them and taught them for almost two years, and having given them a stable Church and well-taught pastors, yet seeing them depart from the faith and fall into terrible sin and heresy, he might easily decide to waste no more effort on them. But he does not give up. His hope for them is steadfast (7), desiring that their difficulties be counted as suffering for Christ, and that their consolation will be as sure and certain as their sufferings have been.
Paul returns to his own suffering in verse 8. They were so intense, he was certain they would kill him. He “despaired even of life.” But God delivered him , and Paul trusts that His protection will continue (9, 10).
The Corinthians have also helped Paul. They have continued to pray for him, and many in the Church sent money to him to enable him to continue to preach the Gospel (11).
2 Corinthians 2
A minority of the Corinthians have attempyed to return the Church to Biblical faith and practice. They have excommunicated the worst of the offenders, including the one who was fornicating with his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5:1-11). Not eating with the offender refers to officially not allowing him to join them in the Lord’s Supper, as we see in 1 Cor. 5:7 and 8.
In chapter 2, Paul urges the Church to make equally thorough efforts to bring the erring ones back into full fellowship of the congregation. This can only be done if they confess and repent of their sin and false religion, but those who do are to be received in full membership of the church (3-11). The man Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:1-11 has apparently repented, yet has not been allowed at the Lord’s Table. Paul tells the Church his punishment is sufficient, and, having repented, he is to be welcomed back to the Table and the bosom of the Church (7).
Verses 12-17 refer to Paul's concern for the Corinthians as he continues his duties in Macedonia during his third missionary trip. Paul had previously spent two years in Corinth, founding the church there around the year 52 A.D. Having invested that much of his life into it, he is naturally concerned to see it prosper in the true faith. These verses tell of his concern, saying he found no rest in his spirit because he had no word from Corinth through Titus. After receiving word of the Corinthian house cleaning, he wrote 2 Corinthians, and it is in that context that he penned the words in verses 14-17 thanking God for the victory in Corinth.
2 Corinthians 3
Letters of recommendation have long been used to introduce someone to a person or group, and it seems some have come to Corinth with such letters and attempted to lead and teach the church. But Paul says he needs no such letter. The Corinthians themselves are his letter, and all who wish to know about his ministry may read it in them (1-3).
But they are much more than simply a letter of Paul. The Corinthians are an epistle of Christ (3:3). It is He who has given them any real faith and spiritual life they have. Paul writes what every true minister of Christ knows, that "we are not sufficient of ourselves." It is not we who move the Church by the force of our personalities or the power of our logic and eloquence. It is God who moves people, using us as tools. In His hand we become sufficient only because He uses us to lead people to the means of grace. A minister is very much like a waiter at a banquet. He brings the food to the people, but it is the food that nourishes and sustains them, and the food is the gift of the one who gives the banquet. In 1 Corinthians Paul compares ministers to farm labourers. One plants, another waters, but it is God who causes the Gospel to take root in your hearts and bear the fruit of faith (1 Cor. 3:5-7). Even a minister's ability to lead people to the means of grace is a gift from God. He is our sufficiency (3:5) and He "hath made us able ministers of the new testament" (3:6).
Verses 6-13 make two points contrasting the Old Testament law and the New Testament Gospel. First, the ministry of the law was given with great glory (3:7). We all know of the events at Sinai, and Paul reminds us that Moses covered his face with a veil because the people could not look upon him who had seen God's glory. Yet the law was unable to give life (3:6). It revealed sin, but it also showed the inability of an animal sacrifice to cover sins. Second, the ministry of the New Testament is more glorious for it is the ministry of the Spirit and of life. Yet Paul wears no veil to cover its glory. He does not attempt to hide it from anyone. Rather, he calls attention to it. He proclaims it with "great plainness of speech" (3:12).
14-16 refer to the common Jewish belief that Christ is not the Messiah. It is as though they are wearing a veil, a blindfold, which prevents their "seeing" Christ. Though the blindfold will be removed, it remains, "even unto this day" (15).
If the letter of the law reveals people's sin and our inability to atone for it, the Spirit reveals that God Himself can and has atoned for it. The Old Testament law anticipates with faith, that God will somehow accept those who trust in Him. On the basis of His own actions, He will do for them what the blood of bulls and goats can never accomplish. He will atone for their sins and receive them fully into His Kingdom. We know He accomplished this through Christ, for He is the Spirit who removes the blindfold from those who believe. In Him there is liberty from the dead letter of the law, and in Him we behold the glory of the Lord. We behold Him now as in a glass, not perceiving Him fully and clearly. But we are being changed into His image, the same image we see dimly now, but will one day see face to face (3:17-18).
2 Corinthians 4
"Therefore" (1) links the following verses to those in chapter 3. They are a conclusion drawn from the primary truth stated in that chapter, namely, that Paul is called into the ministry of the New Testament. Almost incredibly, Paul claims his is a greater and higher ministry than that of Moses, for the proclamation of Christ, the Spirit of the law, is greater than the proclamation of the letter of the law. All ministers reading this should pause and reflect on the awesome responsibility and privilege to which you have been called. Paul rightly says he received this ministry by mercy, not by worthiness, but having received that mercy, and encouraged by the greatness of the privilege of serving Christ, he faints not. Certainly Paul has had enough trials to cause many to faint, to give up, to consider the preaching of the Gospel either too costly or a lost cause. But he continues as one assured of victory and filled with hope. He preaches the word of life, and, though he may face many trials, he is assured that the word of life will bring many souls into the Kingdom of God.
Paul's preaching is free from manipulation of either the message or its hearers (2-3). He does not change the message to entice people to convert, nor does he use gimmicks and tricks to lure people into the Church. He does not use the speculations of the philosophers, or the flashy eloquence of Greek oration. Nor does he offer the allure of ecstatic experiences. By making this statement, Paul implies that others do distort the Gospel and do manipulate the people to gain a following. The Corinthians have followed such people, which is why they have fallen into such sin, and why they have had to endure the pain and problems of getting the church back into the Apostolic faith and practice.
Verses 3 and 4 make it plain that the problem with those who will not receive the Gospel message is with them, not Paul and not the Gospel. The Gospel is clear and simple. He has proclaimed it openly and honestly. Many of the Greek religions claimed to have secret knowledge given only to a few select people, but Paul proclaims the whole Gospel to all who will listen. Thus, those who refuse it bear the responsibility themselves. They have allowed Satan, the "god of this world" to blind their minds.
"For we preach not ourselves" (6) implies that others do preach themselves. A true minister does not promote himself, does not attempt to win a following for himself, and does not attempt to call attention to himself. He proclaims Christ. That means he preaches the Bible, faithfully calling people to become followers of Christ and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded (Mt 28:19). One who errs from this is no minister of Christ. A faithful minister views himself as a servant of the Church, not as master of it. He serves the people and the Lord by preaching the Bible and leading the people to the means of grace. The minister does have responsibility to protect the people from error and deal with sin and heresy, but even this power is a service to the Church and undertaken only as a servant of Christ.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (7). The treasure is the Gospel of Christ. It is the story of redemption from the beginning of time to the end of time, when God brings all things together in Christ. The earthen vessels are our decaying bodies and the mental and spiritual limitations of our fallen minds and beings. Paul's point is not to belabour the earthen vessels but to show that it is not the minister who causes the success of the Gospel, it is God. The Gospel has been placed in fragile containers of clay, yet God causes it to advance and bring souls into His Kingdom. Thus the true power and message of the Gospel is no human invention, and its success does not depend on our creativity, wisdom, or preaching ability; it comes from God alone, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."
It is God's power that keeps the earthen vessels alive and in the faith (8-14). Verses 10 and 12 capture the essence of this passage. The end result of the suffering and trials of Paul is life in the people who become Christians. Therefore, he gladly endures the troubles and cares of the ministry, that people may hear the Gospel and be saved. The glory of God is the goal and the purpose for which he works.
It is not only the people of God who receive the benefit of a faithful ministry, the minister himself also receives eternal glory and rest (16). Therefore, let him look to the things unseen, the home in Heaven, the end of sin and temptation, the face-to-face relationship with Christ in that land where there is no more sorrow, pain, or death. In that hope, he will faint not.
This fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians has much to say to ministers because Paul is writing about his own ministry to remind the Corinthians what God has done for them and how He accomplished it. Yet, it has much to say to the Christian layman also. You also have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. You share the same temptations, limitations, and fallen inclinations ministers have. And you have the same hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, on the basis of His grace, not your merit. Your first calling is also the glory of God, and no "light affliction, which is but for a moment" should be allowed to crowd this purpose out of your life. You also will be helped immeasurably by keeping your hope fixed on the things of Heaven, which are not seen with the physical eye, but only with the eyes of faith. Finally, this should help you to judge who is, and who is not, a faithful minister, or church, of Christ. Faint not.
2 Corinthians 5
Chapter five continues the thought begun in 4:16, which says that our outward man, meaning, our physical body, is perishing. But, even as that happens, our inward man, our spirit, is being renewed day by day. Our spirits are becoming stronger and our faith in Christ is growing. Our desire for Godliness is increasing, and we are experiencing progress in holiness of life and fellowship with God. Therefore, we look not at the outward things seen by the physical eye. We concentrate on the inward person and the renewing work God is doing in us. Nor do we allow ourselves to become fixated on the world with its troubles and treasures. They are passing trifles. We look to that world which is more real than this one. We look to that world which is permanent, in which the treasures of this world are as poverty, and the trials of this life are as light affliction by comparison.
Our physical bodies, and with them all the passing things of earth, are being destroyed. The image used in verse1 is that of a house and tent. It is as though Paul first calls the physical body a house, a temporary structure subject to decay and rot which will collapse one day. Then he says our bodies are not even as solid as a house. They are mere tents. They are mere folds of cloth flapping in the wind and in need of constant care and repair, and which, in spite of our very best efforts, will one day rot away exposing their contents and leaving our souls naked (3). But the end of our tent (tabernacle) is not the end of us. We will be clothed in a new house of mansions that will not decay (sickness), will never fall into destruction (death) and will always abide in the presence of God Himself (everlasting life). It is in this eternal house that we long to dwell (2) and for which we groan while suffering the burdens of our present tabernacle (4).
It is for this purpose that God is working in us now. He is preparing us for the day when we will lay down this tent, and step into a new and wondrous house. He has given us the Spirit as the earnest, or, pledge, or down payment, of His promise. This means that, what the Holy Spirit is doing in us now, will be completed on the day we enter into our new home. And what is the Spirit doing in us now? He is recreating us. He is repairing our inclination towards sin. He is remaking us so that we are becoming more and more inclined toward Him and His will. He is enabling us to love Him more, and desire the things He promises. This is why Paul says that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (17).
The destruction of our earthly tent (death) frees our souls to enter the direct presence of the Lord. While we are in our physical bodies we experience a distance from God. Even in our best and most spiritual moments we have a sense that God dwells beyond us in a dimension we cannot enter. We see Him, but with the eyes of faith, not with physical eyes. We are aware of His presence, and yet, also aware that we do not know His presence fully, that there is a sense in which He is here, yet not here at the same time. But in Heaven this sense will be a thing of the past. There we will see Him and dwell in His full presence. It is only as we become absent from our bodies that we enter fully into the presence of God (8).
Therefore we labour to be accepted of Him (9-10). These verses do not mean we make ourselves acceptable to God by our own efforts. They mean we attempt to do the will of God while we live in this world. We seek Him, and attempt to live quiet and holy lives. For we will all stand before Christ one day to be judged for our works.
It is notable that this passage continues to talk about the nature of the ministry, yet is written to the laity of the Church. It is obvious that Paul is teaching the Corinthians, and us, about the nature and work of the ministry to enable them to discern between those who have preached heresy to lead the Church astray, and faithful ministers who preach the Gospel to lead the Church into the faith and practice of the Bible. Ministers reading this passage should take heed to its teachings and warnings. But the passage has a much more direct application to the laity than just distinguishing true ministers from false ministers. For you also dwell in an earthly tent that is decaying and will one day perish. In what house will you dwell on that day? You, too, walk by faith, and you, too, will stand before God to give an account for your lives in this world. You, also, therefore, must look to the things unseen by the physical eye, and conduct yourself as though you are preparing to go to them some day soon.
"Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord" (11) refers to the Day of Judgment and the account Paul will have to give of his work as an Apostle of Christ. Some would moderate "terror" to mean reverence or respect, but terror seems to work well here, both as a translation of the Greek, phobos and as a description of the soul standing before the Almighty and Holy God. On that Day, many who thought of Him as a gentle giant or a good buddy in the sky will find that He is a Terror, and His power can make eternity misery beyond imagination. It is with this in mind that Paul ministers the Word. It is also with this in mind that he persuades people to repent of sin and trust in Christ. For all will stand before God, and those not dressed in the righteousness of Christ will be cast away forever.
Being "made manifest unto God" means Paul's life and ministry are open and known to God "unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid." But Paul also desires to be as open and known to the people as possible within the limitations of common humanity. He desires to hide nothing of his own self and purpose. His motives are to serve God and His people. He is not about personal gain in any way, and he wants that known because others, claiming to be apostles and teachers of the Corinthian Church, are all about personal gain, using deceit and false doctrine to entice the Corinthians away from the truth and to convince them to give allegiance, and money, to them. Again, let the ministers reading these comments look to themselves and their motives. Let it be known to the Church that our motives are to serve God and His Church, not to build empires for ourselves, or to enrich our purses.
Thus Paul says he is not commending himself to the people (12). He is giving them an answer to the false teachers and false apostles who trouble the Corinthians as well as a way to discern the true from the false. "Glory in appearance, and not in heart," refers to those who count success by material, rather than spiritual, measures. Large crowds and great cathedrals are not proof of pure faith and practice in our time, nor were they in Paul's Remember, God spoke in the still, small voice, not the quake or the storm.
Verse 13 shows that the false teachers in Corinth said Paul's words were just babbling, like someone speaking in tongues. The Greek word translated "beside ourselves" is a form of the word from which we get the English word, "ecstatic" and refers to the emotional experiences into which the Corinthians worked themselves as "proof" that they were possessed by the Holy Spirit. Paul is not defeated by this attack. Rather, he says his words are from God whether they have come from an ecstatic experience or not. It is as though some criticise him saying, "You're just babbling like someone speaking in tongues." Paul replies, "I am not, but even if I were, what I say is still true and for your good."
Verse 11 gives the Day of Judgment as a motivation to speak the truth and do righteousness. Verses 14 and 15 give another motivation, the love of Christ who gave Himself for us. We serve Him because we love Him. We live for Him because He died for us. In His death He gave the most precious gift He could ever give to us. In our lives we give the most precious thing we could ever give to Him.
Verse 17 takes us back to the purpose of God's continuing work in us. He is re-creating us. He is making us into new creatures who will be ready to enjoy Him in Heaven. He is turning us into Heavenly creatures in which all things are new and of God. Paul refers to himself here, as he does also in verse 20. But his words apply to all who believe. The same God who called Paul into faith and fitted him to be an Apostle, calls us into faith and fits us for our work in His Kingdom. The same continuing work of the Holy Spirit, which formed Paul into a new and Heavenly kind of creature, also continues to work in us. The same God who called Paul to the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador for Christ calls us to that same work today.
Verses 19 and 21 give two beloved statements of the Gospel. Verse 19 tells what God is doing; verse 21 tells how.
2 Corinthians 6
Referring to the fact that he ministers to the Corinthians in Christ's stead, and as an ambassador for Christ, Paul says he is a worker together with Christ (1). It is as an ambassador and co-labourer of Christ that he pleads with the Corinthians to be reconciled to God (5:20) and to "receive not the grace of God in vain" (1). He quotes Isaiah 49:8 which tells of the Gentiles receiving the Redeemer, telling the Corinthians they live in the age of the fulfillment of that prophecy; "now is the day of salvation" (2). This reinforces the appeal to be reconciled to God.
Starting at verse 3 Paul writes of his service by which the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles, including those in the Corinthian Church. His service proves he is a minster of God, for in it he endured many trials and pains which included beatings and prisons. "Watchings" means lack of sleep and rest; "fastings" are not voluntary fasts, they are hunger due to lack of food. We see a picture here of a man who, forced to go without sleep, spends the night in prayer, and having nothing to eat, counts it as a fast unto God. Paul bears many sorrows, yet he rejoices in his work. He has suffered the loss of all things, yet made us rich in the things of Christ. He himself owns nothing, yet in Christ he possesses all things.
Paul has taught the truth to the Corinthians. His mouth has been "open" unto them. But he gives not only his words to them; he gives his heart also. His heart is "enlarged." It is overflowing with compassion and feeling for the Corinthian people. His heart is as open to them as his mouth (11). If anything is holding them back from God, it is within themselves, not in him. Every true preacher of the Scriptures wants to be able to say he has taught the truth and opened his heart to the people in such a way as to place no obstacle in their way. If he has done this, any impediment to their peace with God lies in them. Note that Paul asks the Corinthians to open their hearts to him (13). Let the Church love and respect the ministers who love them enough to "set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments."
Unequally yoked (11-18) refers to following false teachers and false churches. Corinth is rife with men who claim to be apostles, but are not sent from Christ and do not preach the truth. Revelation 2:2 shows false apostles were widespread and troubling many churches in the Apostolic era. Paul says to follow them is to be like a calf joined with a strong, mature ox. This is a common way to train young oxen. The stronger ox takes the young one along with him by brute force, thus the young one learns to respond to commands and pull the load. This is a graphic picture of a soul learning the service of a false teacher.
In reality, being yoked to a false teacher is the same as being yoked to the devil (Belial in 6:15). As Christ has no peace or fellowship with the devil, a Christian can have no peace with the teaching of someone who does not believe or teach the truth. To attempt it is like light trying to fellowship with darkness, or righteousness trying to have fellowship with sin (6:14). It is like the Old Testament Jews placing idols in the Temple (1 Sam. 5:2, 2 Cor. 6:16).
Paul appeals to several Old Testament passages to show the Scriptural validity of this point. Notable among them is Isaiah 52:11, "go ye out from thence," which tells the Jews to leave the pagan city of ancient Babylon. "Wherefore, come ye out from among them and be ye separate" (17). The Corinthians have followed false apostles, and Paul is showing them that he and the other true Apostles are the ones who were called and commissioned by Christ. They are the ambassadors for Christ, who beseech the Church in Christ's stead (6:20) and have taught the truth at great cost to themselves (6:4-12). Therefore, or, "now for a recompense," this is what the Apostles desire from the Church; "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (6:13-14). Do not yoke yourselves with those who lead you astray and destroy your souls. "Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." It is difficult to find a clearer and more direct statement about how to deal with those who teach untruth in the name of God than 2 Cor. 6:14-17. It is also difficult to find a clearer and more direct statement about who is and who is not the true people of God than 2 Cor. 6:18. In a sense, 2 Cor. 6:14-18 is a conclusion drawn from the facts and statements found in 2 Cor. 2:17-6:12. That conclusion is; separate yourselves from the false apostles.
The promises of verse 18 are for those who obey the will of Christ revealed in 14-17. This passage has tremendous application to the contemporary situation in which feelings rather than truth is the primary reason why people choose a church.
2 Corinthians 7
2 Corinthians 7 is part of a larger section of 2 Corinthians written to demonstrate the truth of Paul's claim in 2:17,
"For we are not as many who corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ."
Having demonstrated that the true Apostles speak the truth of God, Paul is showing what that means to the Church. Essentially, Paul says, throw out the false apostles and separate yourselves from them (6:11-17). 7:1 continues this theme, using terms of cleansing yourselves of filthiness. We are to separate from the false teachers, and wash their teachings out of our minds as we would wash filth off our bodies. Strong language.
Getting the false teachers out of the Church, and our minds, is only helpful if we follow true teachers. Thus, verse 2 encourages us to receive the true Apostles. This means more than simply loving or honouring them,. It means to receive their teaching. It means to receive the Gospel that was taught to them by Christ, and preserved in their lives and work.
Verse 3 returns to demonstrating Paul's love and compassion for the Corinthians. He found no rest in his soul until hearing from Titus that things were going better in Corinth (5-6). Paul had heard of the strife in Corinth, and sent Titus to them with a letter from him. We know that letter as 1 Corinthians. This letter caused the Corinthians great sorrow (8), and it was very costly to turn the church toward the Apostles' doctrine. Yet Paul rejoices that they were made sorrowful because their sorrow led them to repent of sin and embrace the truth (9).
Verse 11 is difficult for some to understand because it appears to commend the Corinthians for revenge. The verse does not mean that the church took personal revenge on others. It means they cleaned up the church and their own lives. They threw out the false teachers and their followers. They are returning to the Biblical faith, and they are returning to Biblical morality. Paul was greatly relieved when he received news of this from Titus. It was in the hope that they would do this that he wrote 1 Corinthians. Now, being comforted by the news from Titus (13), he rejoices in confidence in the Corinthians (14-16).
2 Corinthians 8
The subject of this part of 2 Corinthians is Christian charity. The Christians of Jerusalem are in dire need due to their foolish financial decisions in the early part of the book of Acts. Paul urges the churches he founded to gather an offering and send it to Jerusalem for their relief. The Corinthians have not done so, despite their being in relatively prosperous circumstances. So Paul urges them again to contribute. He begins by telling them of the gifts from Macedonian churches. "[W]e do you to wit" (1), means "we want you to know" and refers to "the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia." By God's grace they were moved to give generously though they were in affliction and poverty (2). They were persecuted, and persecution drove them to poverty, yet they gave unselfishly.
Their generosity moves Paul to ask the prospering Corinthians to give also (6). But the gift must be their choice, not Paul's. He gives no Apostolic command here (8-10). Rather he urges them to give out of Christian love, as Christ gave Himself to them in love (9). Verses 12-15 do not teach socialism. They teach that we help our truly needy brethren, knowing that if we become needy they will give to supply our need. We are not to give to our detriment, nor are we to support laziness and ease (13). The "equality" of verse 14 does not mean that all should have an equal amount of the world's goods, but that all should give to help the truly needy.
Titus has become very fond of the Corinthians, and is anxious to return to them (16-17). It was Titus who delivered the letter of First Corinthians to the people of Corinth. He also stayed with them and helped them work through the letter and start returning the Church to the Apostolic (Biblical) faith. During this time he developed a deep respect and love for their faith and devotion. He met Paul in Macedonia to tell him about the events and results in Corinth. In response to Titus' report, Paul writes the letter we are now reading and which we know as "Second Corinthians." Titus carries this letter back to Corinth.
Along with Titus go at least two others (18 & 22). The first is known for his work in spreading the Gospel (18). The other is known to be diligent in the many aspects of the faith (22). Both are probably from Macedonian churches. Three men would be less likely to fall prey to the robbers and other dangers on the journey. They would also show the absolute integrity of the mission (21). In Jerusalem, the three could affirm where the money had come from and how much was sent. This could also be verified by contacting the churches which gave the money. They could also carry the thanks of the Jerusalem Apostles back to the churches, thus, confirming that the full amount had reached them. This is not done because of doubts about the offering or the men. It is done to show the absolute honesty of all involved, for they know the false apostles in Corinth will accuse them of lying about their purpose and keeping the money for themselves.
Having stated clearly the trustworthiness of the men (23), Paul closes the chapter by urging the Corinthians to be generous. This will prove the Corinthians' love. Paul has "boasted" about the Corinthians to the Church in Macedonia. Having received the good report from Titus, he probably told the Macedonians the Corinthians could be counted on to give generously. Their gifts would show that he was correct.
2 Corinthians 9
Paul's "boast" about the Corinthians is that they were ready to give a year ago (2). It is superfluous for him to remind them of the offering again (1), but, in order to prevent embarrassment by not being ready, he reminds them anyway (3-5).
Verses 6-15 have often been distorted to mean that giving to the service of God ensures that God will multiply your gifts back to you. But Paul is not promising God will increase your material wealth just because you give money to His work. Such money would be an investment, not a gift. Its objective is not the glory of God, but personal gain. Paul is talking more about spiritual matters than financial matters. He is encouraging people to give freely expecting no financial return on their gifts. It is not to gain wealth that they are to give, but because they have already been blessed with it. The Corinthians are already prosperous people. God has already blessed them with material abundance. Now they are given a chance to help others who are in true need.
There will be benefits for their generosity. Truly God will make all grace abound toward them (8). But notice that the grace given is to enable them have sufficiency in all things that they "may abound to every good work." In verses 10 and 11 Paul prays that God will give them abundance, especially in righteousness. But he does not promise or imply that sending money to Jerusalem will guarantee them more money in return. The benefits of giving money are the same as those for every other thing they do in God's service. They cause the receivers to give thanks unto God (12), and they cause the givers to reap bountifully of the grace of God (6 & 8).
2 Corinthians 10
Paul returns to the problems caused by the false apostles who trouble the Corinthian Church. These men had done much damage, and, though the church had taken vigorous steps to drive them and their followers out, much of their influence remains. Consequently, some of the Corinthians still deride Paul and his teaching. Paul begins the chapter beseeching the church by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (1) and by addressing a charge that he writes bold letters but is weak in person (1, 10). He says his weapons are not after the flesh (2-6). Paul means it is not by personal power, the force of his personality, or his skill as an orator that the issue will be decided (10). It is the power of God that is mighty to pull down strongholds, cast down imaginations (delusions of grandeur), and bring the thoughts of human beings under the obedience of Christ. Therefore, the Corinthians should not look on the outward appearance of Paul, for he belongs to Christ, who has given him authority to build up the Corinthians (8).
Paul makes two important points in the remainder of the chapter. First, he will not compare himself to the false apostles who measure themselves by things other than Christ (12-13). Second, unlike the false apostles, he does not boast "of things without our measure" (15). This means he does not try to take over a church founded by another Apostle. The false apostles are doing just that in Corinth. They are not willing to do the hard work of evangelising new places and organising new churches. They prefer to take over another man's work. But Paul, a true Apostle, brought the Gospel to Corinth, and intends to take it further northward and westward where other evangelists have not been. He will glory in the Lord, not another man's labours. He closes with the telling remark that an apostle who commends himself is not "approved" (accepted by God). It is the man God commends who is accepted. The idea of this verse is that the Corinthians, and all Christians, should approve and accept those as teachers and spiritual leaders whom God commends, not those who commend themselves.
2 Corinthians 11
Some at Corinth say Paul is a fool (2 Cor. 5:13). If so, he says in verse1, "bear with me a little in my folly" for his desire is to present them "as a chaste virgin to Christ." In other words, what has been called "folly" is really concern for their spiritual well being. He has laboured for them with patience, unfaltering love, and tireless devotion. If that is foolishness, then let them bear his foolishness a while longer. He is concerned that they will be the real fools and allow their minds to be corrupted from the simplicity of Christ (3). Some of the false apostles are beginning to teach a complex system of doctrines and deities that combines Christianity and Judaism with Greek mystery religions. Their religion will be known as gnosticism. Paul teaches the simple Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the very simplicity of the Gospel that often trips people. "It can't be that simple," they think, but it is.
The apparent simplicity of the Gospel is one reason why the Corinthians followed the false apostles in the first place, and Paul still worries that they will follow another teacher, trust in another Jesus, receive another spirit, and believe another gospel (4). How easily people are led astray and how easily we are enticed by things that are unimportant. How cheaply we sell our souls for trifles; an engaging personality, a more attractive setting, an easier gospel, a style of music. How easily we are fooled into valuing the wrapping over the Gift.
Though Paul does not preach with the practiced eloquence of the false apostles, he teaches the true Gospel of Christ, they teach a false gospel. His purpose is to gather souls for Heaven, their purpose is to gather mammon for themselves. Because of this, he is not even inferior to the other true Apostles. He is part of them, and with them (5, 6).
Paul's purpose is obviously not to make money. He reminds the Corinthians that he is "chargeable to no man" (9), meaning he accepts no money from them for preaching the Gospel. He supports himself, or receives support from the Macedonian churches rather than accept money from the Corinthians. Having given so much to them, at no cost to themselves, Paul worries that he has harmed them. Having received the Gospel at no expense to themselves, do they now think of the Gospel and the Apostle of Christ as having no value? The false apostles sell their gospels at high prices. Do the Corinthians think they and their gospel are therefore of great value, while Paul and his are of little worth? It is not because the Gospel of Christ is cheap, nor because Paul has no right to receive payment for his services that he preaches the Gospel freely. It is because he does not wish to burden the Corinthians, and so they may never be able to accuse him of selling Christ the way the false apostles sell their faith, that Paul accepts no money from the Corinthians (12).
Verses 13-15 show the deceitfulness of the false teachers. They transform themselves into angels of light. They do not actually become angels of light. They attempt to make themselves appear to be angels of light bearing the Good News. But their gospel is false, and they are deceived and deceivers. Satan tries to appear to us as the minister of truth and freedom, though his words are the words of death. So we should not be surprised when his "ministers" appear to be helpful and their teachings seem so appealing (15).
According to Paul there are two groups of fools in Corinth. First is the group of false apostles. They are the ones who glory after the flesh, meaning to boast and put confidence in their own abilities to sway a crowd and motivate people, rather than in the Gospel and the Spirit of God (18). Second is the group that follows the false prophets. They are the people who are swayed by emotions and psychological tricks rather than the word of God. Thus Paul says of them, "ye suffer (allow yourselves to be influenced by) fools gladly (19). "You gladly allow fools to lead and abuse you," we might say in paraphrase. When, in verse 19, he calls the Corinthians wise he is making a point by stating the opposite, much as a politician might speak of his "worthy" opponent when he really thinks (and wants his hearers to think) the person is terribly unworthy. Since the Corinthians are so "wise" and Paul is so "foolish," Paul says, they should hear him (16-18). They have let the real fools abuse them (20), therefore, they should at least hear the words of one who really cares about them and has suffered for their benefit.
Thus, Paul begins to tell of his service to Christ and the personal cost to him of bringing the Gospel to Corinth. Verses 22-29 tell of the cost to Paul. He equals the false apostles in their Hebrew origins (22). Verse 23 does not mean the false apostles are truly ministers of Christ, but even if they were, their labours cannot begin to match those of Paul. Who among the false teachers has been beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, or lived in exhaustion, hunger, thirst, cold, and inadequate clothing for the sake of the Gospel and the Corinthians? Have they not rather demanded ease and luxury for the service of leading the Church astray?
False apostles and their followers have called Paul foolish and weak, but Paul replies that he will not glory in his strength and wisdom; he will glory in his infirmities, his weaknesses. It is because he is weak that he knows the Corinthians have not been moved to believe in Christ by his eloquence, his magnetic personality, or the attractiveness of a false gospel. They have been moved by the word and Spirit of God. That is the meaning Paul is trying to get across to us.
I fear this truth has been largely lost in the pop religion of today. Many churches are simply personality cults, and much of the preaching has little or nothing to do with the real Gospel. False teachers abound, and people prefer them and their tricks to the simple preaching of Christ. God have mercy upon us.
2 Corinthians 12
In the early days of the Church God continued to reveal Himself through visions, dreams, and miracles. False apostles imitated these things, turning them into emotional/psychological experiences, and making them the heart of being a Christian. They encouraged people to work themselves into a high emotional state using stirring music, often repeating the same words many times, to induce the experiences . During and after this euphoric condition, the endorphins flowed freely, and the false apostles and their followers thought they were experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit.
Real visions and experiences were very rare in the early Church, even among the Apostles. John records one in the book of Revelation and Acts records three for Peter, excluding two times he witnessed people speaking in tongues but did not himself participate. Even Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, records only a few such experiences, and never suggests they are a normal part of the Christian life or to be sought by Christians. His words, "caught up" (4) show that he does not seek such experiences; rather, he was caught up in one by God when he was not expecting it.
The false apostles point to the excitement they brought to the church, and to the experiences people have as the result of their "ministry." This, they claim, is proof that the Spirit of God is working through them, not through poor Paul, who neither has these experiences nor enables the Church to have them. Paul responds to this in chapter 12.
He tells the Corinthians about an experience he had fourteen years earlier. He speaks of himself in the third person as "a man in Christ..., caught up to the third heaven, into paradise..., and heard unspeakable words... not lawful for a man to utter." Due to the timing of this event, many believe Paul writes here about his experience in the Temple recorded in Acts 22:17-21. Whether Paul refers to that experience or another, we always see that his experiences are not sought or worked up by himself, and that they always give Paul specific direction for the work he is called to do. They are never experiences for the sake of experiences. This proves the experiences of the false apostles are not from God.
Paul describes his experience in intentionally vague terms. He does not know if he saw these things by literally being transported into Heaven or not. He only knows that he was allowed to see paradise, and that it was so wonderful he could not describe it even if he were allowed to (2-4).
But it is not in such experiences that Paul glories. He glories in his weaknesses (5) so that no one will think he is more than what he is (6). In other words, Paul does not want to call attention to himself, or even to the unusual experience he had, for that might make people seek him, or the experience, instead of Christ. As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God came to the Gentiles through him, just as it came from the prophets to ancient Israel. Yet, though he is an Apostle, and though he had this experience, he was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (7).
Much discussion has been devoted to this thorn in the flesh. Is it a physical illness? Is it a spiritual weakness? Is it the persecutions of the unbelievers and false apostles? When you get to Heaven, you can ask him. For now let us simply know what the Bible tells us, that in the weakness of that thorn, God's perfect strength is revealed. Paul had thought the thorn would work against his ability to be effective in the work of the Gospel. To Paul, it seemed to be something that would cause people to reject his message. Yet God used Paul mightily because of his weakness. Thus, the thorn, which made effective preaching and evangelism seem impossible, was the very thing God used to make Paul's work effective. The false apostles seem to have everything, and the people throng after them. But those who follow Paul hear the true Gospel. It is they who believe unto salvation.
Therefore, Paul takes pleasure in his infirmities and reproaches (10). It is very likely that the things mentioned in verse 10 are all part of Paul's "thorn in the flesh." But when Paul is weak, then Christ is strong in him. His grace is sufficient (9). His grace is sufficient to make the Gospel appeal to His people. His grace is sufficient to make Paul an effective ambassador for Christ. His grace is sufficient to build His Church and edify His people. His grace is sufficient to enable Paul to persevere in his work until God calls him Home. Paul, like all ministers, is insufficient in himself. No matter how knowledgeable, no matter how gifted he may be in public speaking, no matter how attractive he may be, or how magnetic his personality, he is insufficient and these traits may actually be hindrances rather than helps. Only the grace of God is sufficient for these things, and His grace makes our weaknesses strengths.
These words may well be heeded by those in small but faithful congregations and denominations today. The experience based churches always draw the crowds and get the money. Those who meet in rented buildings, homes, and public halls may think they are disadvantaged by these weaknesses. But it may be that true Christian faith flourishes in such conditions far more than it does in the mega churches and cathedrals. It may be that the things we consider thorns are the very things God uses to exalt Himself in us. Thus Paul says to the Corinthians that without the false apostles and their appealing doctrines and ecstatic experiences, they would not be inferior to any other church. They have it all because they have Christ. Paul's one regret about his ministry among them is that he did not allow them to share the expenses of preaching the Gospel in Corinth (13).
There is a saying, "No good deed goes unpunished." That describes Paul's feelings about his treatment from the Corinthians. Throughout this epistle he has professed his love for them. He has recounted the sacrifices he made to bring the Gospel to them (11:23-29). He has reminded them that others contributed money so he could minister in Corinth without cost to them (11:8), and that he suffered need rather than accept money from them (11:9). In chapter 12, he plans to make another trip to Corinth, to spend yet more time and effort, at great personal cost to him and at the expense of people outside of Corinth. He reaffirms his willingness to spend and be spent in their service (15). Yet, he says, "the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."
The Corinthians have preferred the flashy, self-promoting false apostles, with their false gospels and emotional experiences, to the self giving love of Paul, who preaches the truth simply and honestly. The false apostles used the Corinthians to build a financial empire for themselves, and the Corinthians love them. Paul spent himself to build Biblical faith and hope in them, and they reject him. He fears, for their sake, that many of them remain in their sin (20). He fears he will still find them in debates (arguing for false teachings) envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings (murmuring and complaining in attempts to divide the Church) swellings (conceit), and tumults (20). In other words, he fears he will find a divided church fighting over unimportant things while meekly accepting lies and false teaching.
How often we find the same things happening today. Churches fight and split over insignificant things, yet allow themselves and their loved ones to be indoctrinated with hellish heresies. People who share the Biblical faith, and are otherwise united in culture, values, and life-views, divide and allow themselves to be divided over trivialities that don't matter at all. There is only one word for this, SIN. Notice that Paul addresses this sin before the other sins of fornication and lasciviousness (lewd behavior). He does so because, contrary to popular belief, these sins are "worse" than the others. He does not say the others aren't sin. He is certainly willing to excommunicate people for them, which is the same as saying they are no longer part of Christ's Body and Church. He is saying the other sins are worse. People committing them often think that if they are not committing adultery and lewdness, they are in good shape, spiritually. Paul strongly disagrees.
False doctrine does not have to be extreme to be false. False teachers can appear very orthodox about Christ, yet change the focus of His work from saving souls to having religious experiences or social action. Both of these views are prevalent in contemporary churches. Most of the mega churches teach religious experience as the primary focus of following Christ, and giving such experiences dominates their worship and ministries. They do not usually deny the orthodox doctrines of the faith, they simply place them in the background. But placing them in the background changes the focus, and changing the focus essentially changes the message. The gospel of social action has taken over most of the so called, "main line denominations." This "social gospel" sometimes teaches fairly orthodox things about the being of Christ, but it goes astray in the application of these doctrines to the Church and the Christian life. Such churches usually assume that Christ's death and resurrection secured salvation for all people of all time. Since all people are going to Heaven, regardless of their religion or lack of it, the Church's task is not to tell them Jesus died for their sins and get them to become Christians. It is to clean up the mess of social injustice, poverty, sickness, and war. Both of these lines of thought place the emphasis in the wrong place, and, thus, distort the Message.
2 Corinthians 13
Second Corinthians closes with a wonderful combination of warning, encouragement, and promise. The warning is that Paul, in the name of and acting for Christ, will deal with those who remain in the sins he wrote of in chapter 12. He will not spare them (2). There is a time for patience, and a time for action. The Corinthians have been stumbling through apostasy and sin due to the influence of false teachers for several years. Now it is time for action. They must rid themselves of the false apostles and their followers, or Paul will cast them out when he comes. Christ in Paul will accomplish this (12:3-4). They must also repent of the sins that are dividing the church and dishonouring Christ (11:20-21). If they will not, Paul will cast them out of the Church. This means they will be considered and treated as non-Christians. By their actions and doctrines they seem to show that they are not of Christ, therefore, Paul will remove from them the privilege of participation in the Church and in Holy Communion. This may not sound very serious to the modern reader, but it is actually very serious. To be a Christian is to participate in Christ. It is to live in Christ, hope in Christ, and feed on Christ as a branch feeds on the tree. To be excommunicated is to have the Church say that a person's life and views are antithetical to Christ, and seem to show that he is not participating, hoping, or feeding on Him as a Christian. Therefore the sign and seal of his participation in Him is removed. Such a person is being turned over to Satan in the hope that he will see his spiritual danger and seek Christ fully.
The encouragement is found throughout the chapter, but is especially abundant in verse 5. Paul encourages the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith, and to prove they are by true doctrine and faithful living. Paul is encouraging them to examine themselves by Scripture, not the teachings of the false apostles, and not by the feelings and excitements they experience in the services led by the false teachers. This is a difficult thing to do, and few Christians ever really attempt it. But it is the only way to know whether we are truly in Christ or reprobates.
The promise is that turning from sin to Godliness brings all of the fullness and grace of God into our lives (11). The holy kiss (12) is not an invitation to turn the worship of God into a hugfest. It means that those who truly belong to Christ have ceased the debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults, and sensual sins which have characterised and divided the Corinthian Church for so long (12:20-21). Having turned from those sins, they now live in peace with one another. Those, formerly considered "enemies," against whom the sins of 12:20 were committed, have now become fellow partakers in Christ, and live in Christian peace and love. This does not mean they no longer have disagreements, or that they live in a state of sinless euphoria. It means they practice forbearance, humbleness, and forgiveness, trying not to give offense to others, and refusing to take offense at the actions and words of others. Such people, instead of greeting one another with wrath and strife, greet one another in peace and harmony. Rather than fighting, they "kiss."
The saints of verse 13 are the Christians in Macedonia, from which Paul wrote 2 Corinthians.
The letter closes with words of peace and grace; the benediction with which we close the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and which, according to Evan Daniel's history of the Prayer Book, was universal in the ancient liturgies. John Chrysostom, who wrote the prayer which precedes it in the Prayer Book, also wrote of this benediction, "After having united [the Corinthians] to one another by the salutations and the kisses, he again closes his speech with prayer... uniting them unto God also." Matthew Henry wrote that in this verse, we are promised "the grace of Christ as Redeemer, the love of God who sent the Redeemer, and all the communications of this grace and love, which come to us by the Holy Ghost." "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen."