Second Corinthians is an epistle for the heart. It engages us with the fond solicitude which stirs the affections of the apostle for his much loved Corinth. It was written because he wished to spare them and dreaded the severity which his presence might demand.
This loving epistle reveals an aspect of the evangel which is well-nigh lost. This is the conciliation. God is love. He will not rest satisfied in merely justifying us. He wishes to clasp us to His heart. To restore His creatures to righteousness may indeed erase the stain of sin, but offers no valid reason or excuse for sin's intrusion into the universe. But if the entrance of sin is to bear the precious fruit of reconciliation, if it is to bring us infinitely nearer to God than is possible without it, if it is the means of revealing God's love to us, then may we give thanks even for the sin which is the source of our sorrows. Sin made man not only a sinner, but an enemy of God. It brought in estrangement. The mediation of Christ not only saves and justifies, but removes every barrier for the free outflow of God's love. God now condescends to beseech the sinner to be conciliated to Him. What can be more gracious than this?
Such is the aspect of the truth in this epistle. More than anything else he has written, this reveals the personal experiences and inward emotions of Paul during one of the most fruitful periods of his ministry. Instead of the smiling, complacent, comfortable existence which is usually supposed to be the ideal of Christianity, we find him full of fears within, distracted with fightings without, restless, sick, and despondent. Yet all of this was in perfect accord with his fervent love for the saints and his vehement desire to lead them on into an appreciation of God's love. The consolation and comfort he received in his afflictions fitted him to console and comfort others. It reveals God in the light of His affections.
One short verse in the book of Acts (Ac.20:2) hurries us over the whole period referred to in this epistle. This alone should suggest the total divergence of their respective themes. Acts deals with Christ after the flesh, as the Messiah of Israel, and always gives the other nations a place subordinate. At the juncture when this epistle was written Paul first made known the truth of the conciliation, that God, in Christ, is beseeching all men to be reconciled to Him. Physical relationship to Christ no longer counted with Paul after this.
II Corinthians 1:1-24
1 Timothy is associated with Paul in this introduction, as Sosthenes is in the former epistle, yet it is evident that Paul himself wrote both epistles, for he continually refers to himself in them, and usually specifies who is meant when he changes the usual "I" to "we".
Corinth was the chief city of Achaia, hence the whole province was interested in and influenced by its internal spiritual condition. The many specific references to the ecclesia in the city make it plain that it was for the saints in the province only in a secondary sense, much as we profit by it today.
3 The opening words strike the keynote of the epistle. God is introduced as the Father of pity and consolation. It engages us with that strong undercurrent of feeling which stirred the heart of the apostle to its very depths. Here we see the precious fruit of the gospel abounding in the apostle's dealing with his erring children. Paul's previous epistle evidently had its desired effect, for he would not think of consoling them in their sins and schisms and departures from the truth.
5 Paul's afflictions were, in a very real sense, "the sufferings of Christ", for they came, not as the result of his misdeeds, but because he proclaimed Christ's evangel. Not long before he had been in danger of death at the hands of a mob in Ephesus. He was suffering from some physical ailment. He was in much suspense about the Corinthians and their reception of his previous epistle. When he finds that they, too, have suffered, though it be for their own wrongdoing, he is swift to console them, and sees in his own afflictions the means used by God to prepare him for this ministry. All this should be an object lesson to us to show how sin and suffering is being used by God to bring our hearts into closer union with Himself and with one another. And affliction is the surest means of ridding us of confidence in ourselves and of placing our reliance in God. Suffering for Christ's sake is the highest honor which can be accorded to mortal man. Just as His sufferings are the basis of the glories that shall follow, so our sufferings for His sake are sure to yield an untold harvest of happiness and exultation when He appears.
9 It seems probable that Paul was doubly in danger of death in Ephesus. The "rescript" of death may refer to a dangerous illness, while the death of "such proportions" seems best suited to the violence of the Ephesian mob. It is most likely that, had he attempted to speak to them during the excitement, nothing would have prevented the unruly multitude from tearing him to pieces in their frenzy. Now that he had come through these dangers he desired the Corinthians to join him in thanksgiving.
12 The apostle seems to be meeting the opposition of his enemies here, who accused him of insincerity and dishonesty in dealing with the Corinthians. His reply is that his course may not appeal to fleshly wisdom, but it is in accord with grace–a quality of which they knew little.
13 Perhaps some suspected him of writing privately, to individuals, what he did not dare to put in his public epistles. This he denies, and registers his assurance that ultimately they would recognize him as one in whom they might well boast in that day when the hidden motives of the heart will be made manifest.
15 Paul acknowledges that he formerly intended to come to them first, on his way to Macedonia, as well as to return to them on his way to Judea. His enemies probably accused him of being vacillating, and of changing his plans for fear he would not be well received in Corinth. But Paul insists that his plans are always made subject to God's further leading. Men in the flesh may make their plans and strive to carry them through from headstrong pride, but not so the plans of God's servant. Later on, he gives the true reason why he did not go direct to Corinth. Not fear for himself, but for them, postponed his visit to a later date.
20 God's promises are not like those of His servants, but are always confirmed in Christ. He is not only able to carry out His will, but His promises are made with a full knowledge of all conditions such as might arise to change the course of one of His servants. They are fallible, He is infallible.
21 The operation of God's Spirit is here seen under three distinct figures: the anointing, the seal, and the earnest. Prophets and priests and kings were anointed for their office. They were anointed with oil. We are anointed with the spirit, as Christ, the anointed, was at His baptism. This qualifies us for service. The seal is the sign of possession. We belong to God. The earnest is that small installment of the spirit which we have received, which is the pledge of its fullness in the day of deliverance.
23 In view of the devious motives which have been suggested as the reason why he had avoided Corinth, Paul solemnly calls God to witness, when he discloses the real reason. He wished to give them time to repent. He did not wish to be under the necessity of dealing harshly with them again. He looked forward to the day when those whom he had made sorry would rejoice. He did not wish to force their faith, as might be necessary if he did not wait patiently until his former epistle had borne its full fruition. That time now seems to have come. The present epistle is the fruit of much forbearance.
II Corinthians 2:5-17
5 Paul's sorrow over the incestuous person, concerning which he wrote to them in his former epistle (ICo.5:1), was much modified because it was not countenanced by the majority. He did not wish to burden them all with this serious sin. Now, indeed, that the majority have administered the needed rebuke, and it has had a salutary effect, he would have them restore him their fellowship again. He had doubtless been "delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh yet this was "that the spirit may be saved" (lCo.5:5). Such is the invariable object of God's judgments. They may seem harsh and vindictive, but they eventuate in salvation. They may seem baneful at first but they are all dictated by the love that uses them to reveal itself. Like the returned prodigal, the Corinthian sinner became the special object of their love. From this, it is evident that God is able to use Satan himself, as a destroyer, for the ultimate welfare and blessing of the saints. It proved so in Job's case. May He not be able to undo all his deeds in this manner?
12 The grave and disquieting concern of the apostle for the Corinthians is most signally evident from his conduct at Troas. Once before he had been there, intending to preach the evangel, but the vision of the man of Macedonia drew him away. Now he finds himself not only in Troas but with a special opportunity for service. While he probably remained a considerable time and saw much to encourage further effort, his love and solicitude for the Corinthians draws him away again. He expected to meet Titus at Troas with news from Corinth. He was so concerned to know how they had received his epistle that he leaves the promising world in Troas and goes to Macedonia, probably meeting Titus at Philippi.
14 The true servant of Christ is always triumphant. He need not be concerned whether his message be received or rejected, but rather let him be sure that he is preaching Christ and Him alone. His course then, as the apostle's, will be like the triumph of a Roman conqueror. Accompanied by his friends, and followed by captives laden with chains, while the whole procession is perfumed with the incense of many censers, the Roman triumph was but a rare occasion in the life of a general. It should be the continual course of the servant of Christ who so preaches His grace that its fragrance is found even on those who reject the message of life.
17 Too many in these days are like those the apostle condemns. They made the word of God a matter of commerce and a means of gain. May He forgive them for such an infamous offense! Such grace as we have to dispense loses its flavor when coupled with avarice or cupidity.
II Corinthians 3:1-18
1 How the apostle's heart must have ached to think that his beloved Corinthians, who had been called into the grace of Christ through his ministry, should be so unmindful of his claims on their affections! How pathetic his appeal! "You are our letter, engraved in our hearts." They certainly should not ask for his credentials, for they themselves were the very best that could be found. No doubt those who opposed him were of the Circumcision, for he brings in the contrast of the Mosaic law.
6 The covenant of the letter is the law of Moses which was engraven in stone, to symbolize its unyielding sternness. There is no reference to the letter of Scripture. It is the law that kills, just as it is the spirit (through the letter of Scripture) that gives life. The sayings that Christ spoke are both spirit and life to all who believe them.
7 The account of Moses' reception, after his forty-day session on Sinai, is found in Ex.34:28-35. It is evident that they saw Moses' face even though they could not look intently at it. Moses did not hide the glory from them. He did not put the covering on his face till he had done speaking with them, but when he had finished (Ex.34:33). Later he put it on again "until he went in to speak with Him". He hid the fading of the glory, which indicated the transient, fading character of the law. As Paul says (verse 13), it was done so that the sons of Israel should not observe the consummation of that which is vanishing. Now, instead of a covering on Moses' face, there is one on Jewish hearts, which hides from them the true character of the covenant of Sinai. It had a glory once, but it has long since been eclipsed in Christ. This they will not discover until they turn back to the Lord.
9 A bright torch, which will illuminate the night, becomes black when held up to the noonday sun. So the law, a bright exhibition of the righteous character of God, turns to blackness before the transcendent effulgence of grace which is now revealed. It had a glory but lost it all by contrast to the glory excelling. Since, then, the law's glory is darkened by a greater glory, how much greater must be the glory of this dispensation of grace!
12 Moses, finding that the glory of his face was not permanent, hid the fact by covering his face until he went into the Lord's presence again. Not so Paul. He had no need of any covering, for the dispensation of the spirit is not like the law. The law led from glory to gloom. Grace leads from glory to glory. One deals out condemnation and death. The other dispenses righteousness and life.
18 The ancient mirror was a burnished metal surface which reflected the light as well as the image of the one who used it. Paul did not climb the steeps of Sinai and bring back a transient reflection of the Lord's glory, as Moses did. He beheld Him continually, as we behold our faces in a mirror. The glory of the Lord irradiated him. It did not fade, but became brighter and brighter. Contemplation of the Lord led to likeness to Him. This is a beautiful epitome of Paul's ministries. He began with grace on the road to Damascus. He dispenses justification at Pisidian Antioch. He reveals the conciliation to the Corinthians. He teaches the truth transcendent from his Roman prison. Grace upon grace and glory upon glory! His successive ministries led onward to the transcendent glories contained in his Perfection Epistles.
II Corinthians 4:4-18
4 The evangel of the glory of Christ!" Would that our evangelism reached to this altitude! And why are Christ's glories so lacking in the gospel efforts of today? Because the god of this eon not only blinds the minds of the unbelievers, but he centers the gospel on sin and self and sanitation–anything except Christ and His glories.
4 Few subjects for meditation will be found so full of blessing as that of the Image of God. John presents Him to us as the Word of God, through Whom we hear Him; Paul shows us the One in Whom we can see God. God Himself cannot be seen, for He is invisible. Hence it is that He has given us an Image of Himself which we can discern. And just as we give the picture or statue of a person the same place in our minds and in our speech as the person himself, so Christ is seen in the Scriptures, addressed as God as if equal to God. Unlike the inflexible image of a lifeless photograph, He is instinct with the life of God, and changes to accord with the divine assumptions (Heb.1:3).
7 The present pathway of God's saints and slaves is not calculated to glorify us, but God. And this is often best accomplished by contrast, for God will not give His glory to any of His creatures. We must be broken if we would be bearers of His blessing.
10 The widespread fiction that the life of a Christian must be one of settled calm and contentment, prosperous and in every way advantageous in this life, is proven utterly fallacious by the experience of the apostle Paul. The carnal Corinthians may live and reign, but he is afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and cast down. As in Job's case, little was left him but his life. If we are faithful to God we will find but little in this life, and will look forward to resurrection life in Christ. Apart from resurrection, we should be the most pitiable of all mankind. The reason that this conception of the believer's experience has been lost is the widespread apostasy and conformity to the world. Do you see a servant of Christ persecuted and despised? Do not judge him hastily. He may be manifesting the life of Jesus, Who was despised and rejected because the world did not know him.
17 How shall we characterize our trials if Paul's were only momentary and light? At times he even despaired of life. Just before this, he had been crying to God to remove the thorn in the flesh. But what is all this to him, in view of the transcendent revelations of the future of which he had become the depository and dispenser? We would speak of our present burdens and of the lightness of our load in the resurrection, but he reverses this. The glory of that day would be an unbearable burden to our present bodies. Our burdens are light indeed in view of that transcendent outcome.
18 The usual translation, "temporal" or "temporary" throws a false light on the context. That which we are observing does not endure for the course of time but only for a brief season. The stony ground hearer (Mt.13:21; Mk.4:17) and the enjoyment of sin (Heb.11:25) are temporary, not temporal. These are the only passages in which this word occurs.
II Corinthians 5:1-21
1 Our present soulish body is here compared with the temporary tent of the Bedouins, but our spiritual bodies, which will be our eonian habitations, are compared to a house.
2 Our present condition is aptly expressed in the two words, groaning and longing. We groan to be rid of our temporary tabernacle. We long to enter our eonian habitation. We have, however, no desire for any intermediate condition. Death is always viewed as an unwelcome enemy, in Scripture. Resurrection, vivification, is the true expectation of the believer. Even the apostle, in his infirmity and distress, never chooses death, but always suggests a far better alternative, the coming of Christ, when the mortal shall be swallowed up by life.
6 The article "the" in Greek, sometimes has almost the force of our "this". "The body" is not simply a body, but a particular body, that is, this body in which we are at home now. We have two homes. The tabernacle in which we now live and the eonian house in the resurrection; the soulish body and the spiritual body. We may be away from one home yet present in the other. Now we are away from home, from the Lord. Yet we would much prefer to be away from this home and be at home in our spiritual body, with the Lord. We have no third home, and if we had, the apostle has just made it clear that the naked, unsheltered condition is not at all to be desired. He could hardly reverse that conviction without some further explanation.
10 The dais, or raised platform from which games were judged and awards given, must not be confused with a judicial bench. The quality of our acts may determine the award to which we are entitled, but the question of condemnation is entirely foreign to such a tribunal. We are absolutely absolved from all condemnation, but we are eligible to an award for meritorious service. These awards will be distributed at the dais of Christ, according to our acts in "the" body, that is, our present soulish bodies.
14 The apostle looks upon the world as one vast charnel house. Since Christ died for the sake of all, then all died. He sees the end of all physical privilege and pretension in this great fact. This is the basis of the new departure in his ministry at this time.
16 Paul had been proclaiming the kingdom, with Christ and the nation which is related to Him by physical ties at its head. Entrance into that kingdom was by a birth from above. But now the figure of birth is not radical enough to denote the great change. Just as, after the day of the Lord, heaven and earth will be re-created so is the spiritual change which took place at this juncture. There is a new creation. Paul never connects the new birth with his teaching to the nations. It suffices to figure the change necessary for the sons of Israel and their proselytes, fitting them for the earthly millennial sphere. For us, far more is needed. Like Adam, we are not a mere renewal in kind, but an entirely new creation.
18 "All is of God!" This is the key to real evangelism. Here we have, in brief, the heart of the true evangel for the world in this administration of grace. The keynote is conciliation. Not the sinner conciliating God, by penance or prayers, but God conciliating the sinner. The sinner may be most offensive and insulting, but. God does not reckon these offenses against him. Let this be clear. God is not charging men with their sins, for Christ died for sins. He is not pressing their offenses, for He is bent on conciliation. The evangel is not concerned with the sinner at all but with God's attitude toward him and with the sufferings of Christ. He has placed in us, not the message of judgment, but the word of conciliation.
20 God insists on being at peace with the world, no matter how they treated His Son, or Paul, or any of His ambassadors. He will withdraw us, His ambassadors, before He declares war, in the coming day of His indignation. What a marvelous token of His grace and love that God (not the sinner) does the beseeching now! Nothing can be so foreign to this evangel as a sinner praying to God, for it closes his ears to God's entreaties. We are ambassadors for the high court of heaven, proclaiming peace and conciliation. When the sinner receives the conciliation there is mutual reconciliation between him and God. Sinner, God is beseeching you, through us, "Be conciliated to God! " Your sins are no hindrance, for He has made Christ a Sin Offering for our sakes that we may become God's righteousness in Him. There is nothing for you to do but to accept His proffered love. Simply thank and adore Him for His grace.
II Corinthians 6:8-18
8 The true servant of God may well take heart from this list. Practically all the present-day ministerial qualifications for service are absent. We know that Paul had no presence. His personal appearance did not commend him. His speech was counted contemptible. These were faults keenly felt by the carnal Corinthians, just as they are today. But he insists that he has given no one cause to stumble in anything. Paul deemed eloquence and physical appearance of no vital moment. Love, knowledge, toil, endurance, these ought to characterize the Lord's servant today even if he should not be called upon to bear affliction and distresses such as came to Paul. It is a vast comfort to the editor of this version to find himself able to enter fully into the apostle's experience in many particulars. His efforts have met with defamation and renown, he has been accused of deceiving yet is assured of his integrity, he is unknown yet recognized, disciplined yet not put to death, sorrowful yet ever rejoicing, poor yet enriching many.
14 The church has fallen so low and has compromised so thoroughly with the world that the sharp distinction between saint and sinner has been almost obliterated. And with this, the separation between believer and unbeliever is rarely acknowledged. Were we, who are Christ's, living up to our privileges, we would not even consider any alliance with unbelievers. In business, we should have a standard of righteousness unknown to them. No partnership is possible between righteousness and lawlessness. The social organizations of the world are darkness to one who is light in the Lord. There can be no agreement between the religions of the world and Christ. The true believer cannot share in that which appeals to the unbeliever.
16 A due sense of the solemn fact that God is making His home in us is the best preventive from contamination with the pollutions of the world.
16 Lev. 26:11-12; LXX, with variations.
17 Isa.52:11; LXX, with alterations.
Paul is not misquoting from memory, as is usually supposed. He makes inspired alterations to suit the occasion.
II Corinthians 7:1-16
2 What a tender yet cutting rebuke to the Corinthians! The idea that Paul had injured any of them! They owed all their blessings in Christ to him. They, indeed, had injured him by their ungrateful conduct. Whom, indeed, had he corrupted? He had led them out of the corruption of heathendom into the holiness which is in Christ. Had he overreached any of them? He did not even charge them with his bare subsistence, when he might have claimed all they had. They owed their very selves to him. But their ungratefulness did not alienate his affections from them. No doubt, at his coming into Macedonia, there would be much to engage his attention, much in Phillippi to encourage and comfort him in his distress, yet nothing set his heart at rest until he had tidings from Corinth. This is but another example of the function of evil. Had the Corinthians been exemplary in their conduct, this marvelous interchange and expression of affection would never have found occasion. Men cannot bring good out of evil: that is God's prerogative. But God can, and does, control all the evil in the universe, so that its ultimate result will be blessing far beyond what could have been had evil never entered and marred His perfect creation. God is able to cope with evil. It is not stronger than He is.
6 At Titus' arrival in Macedonia he conveys to Paul the good news that the Corinthians as a whole have been greatly affected by his former epistle and have been diligent to right the wrongs which he had pointed out. At times the apostle seems to have regretted writing the epistle, for he did not wish to cause them sorrow. But now that the sorrow produced has had such a beneficial effect, he rejoices that it was not superficial, or despairing, but caused them to change their mind, and act accordingly. Above all, it proved that the gross sins into which some of them had fallen were not widespread. It did not have the countenance of the ecclesia, for they resented it, and defended themselves. They made it clear that, as an ecclesia, they were pure in this matter. The majority laid aside their party affiliations and united to purge the ecclesia of its defilement.
12 It would seem that the opposition to Paul in Corinth was not deep-seated, unless we except some of the Jewish leaders. At heart, they were true to him though their conduct seemed to belie it. So Paul brings home to them for more than one reason the gross sin which was committed among them. Indeed, he might have made it an individual matter, and could have written to the offender personally. But he chose rather to involve the ecclesia that they might realize the true heart allegiance which they gave him, notwithstanding their schisms and divisions. Great calamities and persecutions of the saints have much the same effect still. Petty differences and party spirit disappear when some common danger recalls the saints to their allegiance to Christ.
13 Titus seems to have been much concerned about the Corinthians, lest they should prove refractory, and his visit to them lead to dissension and disobedience. Paul was the more concerned to know of his reception on this account, and because he had sought to soothe his fears and had boasted of the outcome of his endeavors. Titus must have been much pleased to find his fears unfounded, but not nearly so much as Paul, who would have been disgraced for boasting without cause, and for sending Titus to them in spite of his apprehensions.
II Corinthians 8:1-24
1 Macedonia, and especially its chief cities, Philippi and Thessalollica, were models in many ways. The epistles addressed to them have much praise and hardly any censure. If Paul could boast to others about Corinth, he surely had a right to boast about Macedonia. They seem to have been very poor and in the midst of trying circumstances, so that Paul did not expect them to take any part in the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. But they beg to have a share in it, and give beyond their ability, first, indeed, giving themselves to the Lord.
7 Is it not remarkable that Macedonia, poverty-stricken, in the midst of extreme affliction, deterred from contributing by Paul, entreats for the privilege as a favor, while Corinth, undoubtedly far richer and more able to contribute, needs their example and all the urging and spurring which the apostle can bring to bear in order that they should not disgrace him by a meager contribution?
9 Paul begins his pleading by giving the true motive which should actuate us in our gifts to God's work: and to His poor saints. Christ was rich once beyond all our conceptions of wealth. The whole universe was created for Him (Col.1:16). He subsisted in the form of God (Phil.2:6). He had no peer on earth or in the heavens. All this He laid aside to enrich us. He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming to be in the likeness of humanity, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil.2:7-8). What poverty can equal this? The highest in heaven becomes the outcast of earth. Who was ever impoverished as He was? He gave up all He had and all He was to enrich us. Now we are rich. But few of God's saints are rich in this world's goods, yet all are blessed with untold spiritual wealth. Such is the example He has set before us. If such was His disposition, it should be ours as well.
10 It is noteworthy that the apostle never commands them to give. He never forces them to be generous. It is no injunction. He gives his opinion. The tithe, which was regularly taken in Israel for the support of the Levites, is never applied to the nations, for it is a part of the law, and its spirit is entirely foreign to the spontaneous, hearty response which alone gives value to all donations.
13 It is evident that the Corinthians were blessed with more than sufficient for their wants or they could not have given of their superabundance.
18 It is probable that Titus' companion later returned with Paul when he conveyed the contribution to Jerusalem, and was one of the company which went with him into Asia (Ac.20:4). These were Sopater of Berea" Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica, Gaius of Derbe, Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. Timothy would have been mentioned by name. Luke also was with them. Trophimus, we know, went as far as Jerusalem. It would be especially fitting that he should be among the bearers of this offering to the saints at Jerusalem and that they should thus requite him for his kindness, for Paul's long imprisonment began as a result of Trophimus' presence in Jerusalem. The Jews thought that Paul had taken him into the sacred precincts of the temple.
20 It was necessary that one in whom they had implicit confidence should have a hand in the conveyance of the collection to Jerusalem, lest Paul should leave open any possibility for false suspicions.
22 This brother was probably another of those who accompanied Paul on his return to Asia, possibly Tychicus.
23 It is interesting to note the usage of the word apostles in this connection. The Authorized Version hides it by translating "messengers". The American Revision repeats this, but puts "apostles" at the foot of the page. Others render it "ambassadors". But this occurrence is by far the best example by which to define the true meaning of "apostle." Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, and Trophimus are not ordinarily rated as apostles. While they were not apostles of the Lord, they certainly were apostles of the ecclesias. They had been elected and commissioned by the eeclesias to represent them in this matter. This shows that an apostle is an official representative, bearing a commission.
II Corinthians 9:4-15
4 The Macedonians had hurried their collection. The Corinthians had been preparing for it long before them. How would it appear if they should not be ready?
5 God has no need. Gifts acceptable to Him must spring from a pure motive is better not to give at all than to give with a heavy heart or from an unworthy motive. Extortion, whether by appeals to pride, competition, tithing, or anything except the voluntary, spontaneous response to His grace, is not in keeping with His attitude toward us now.
6 While giving should never be mercenary, in hope of some return, it is doubtless most profitable in every way. It brings immediate happiness and satisfaction and it bears a harvest in the future. The farmer who stints his seed will reap a spare crop. Many, of us, in that day, will wish that we had been more bountiful in our sowing for, no doubt, the harvest will be hundredfold.
7 Hilarious is the English adaptation of the Greek word we have rendered "gleeful". One may give with cheerful resignation, but more than this is desired by the Lord. When we do it with irrepressible joy, then we come into closest communion with the God who gave His Son and with Him gives us all.
12 Paul had promised James, Cephas, and John, that, in carrying out his distinctive ministry, he would not fail to remember the poor saints among the Circumcision ( Gal.2:10). They may have had no higher thought than to relieve their distressed brethren. Paul was impelled by a worthier motive. Jews of the Circumcision were continually harassing him and threatened to create a bitter antagonism between the Jews and the ecclesias he had founded. They were already at work in Corinth and Galatia. If he could carry to Jerusalem some signal proof of the good will of these foreign believers he might repair the widening breach, and bring glory to God through the mutual interest and the thankfulness it would create. But they responded by putting him in chains. When the apostle came to bring the alms to Jerusalem, instead of giving him an ovation and gladly sharing their spiritual wealth with the nations, the mere suggestion that Paul had brought one of the aliens into the temple precincts nearly cost him his life.
II Corinthians 10:1-18
1 Paul now turns his attention to the minority in Corinth, who were still opposed to him. They may be that party which said, "I am of Christ" (1Co.1:12) and seem to have been led by an emissary of the Judaisers. These men were proud and imperious, quite unlike the Christ in Whom they boasted, hence Paul appeals to the meekness and lenience of Christ. They walked according to the flesh and were continually opposing him on that ground. They misinterpreted his gentleness, and called it cowardice, they said he was brave enough at a distance, but afraid to put his threats into execution when present. Paul, in reply, hopes he may not be called upon to exercise the authority he possesses in a destructive way, but makes it plain that he has the spiritual power to wage a campaign if necessary. By a bold figure he likens his spiritual warfare to the pulling down of the forts of the enemy, and leading all opposition into captivity. The most powerful weapons are not material but spiritual. Neither are place and prestige as potent as truth. Paul alone was more than a match for the judaizing legates sent out from Jerusalem. False brethren such as these were his most virulent enemies.
7 The unspiritual, fleshly-minded man looks only on the surface. But nowhere are appearances so deceiving as in things spiritual. Our Lord Himself had none of the superficial marks of greatness. Paul seems to have been specially deficient in those qualities which were demanded from those who aspired to leadership in the world. His public speaking seems to have been the special point on which his enemies attacked him. Greek orators were probably the most accomplished the world has ever seen. By comparison, Paul's presence was weak and his delivery contemptible. But what has become of all those masters of forensic art? They are dead and their efforts have died with them. The few that remain are models of beauty but are devoid of all spiritual power. Paul's words transformed his hearers, not by his mode of delivery but by their truth and potency.
11 Even forbearance and gentleness have their limits. The apostle makes it clear that, when he came to them again he would act quite as severely as he wrote in dealing with those who still opposed him. He does not wish to be judged by their standard for it is of no use at all to measure man by men. Anyone can be great in a community of dwarfs. If the standard is false, so is the greatness.
13 These opponents of his were overstretching themselves. They never came as far as Corinth in proclaiming the evangel, but after Paul had toiled, then they came along and boasted as if they, not he, had outstripped others in bringing it to them. Paul was planning to carry the evangel beyond them into regions where it had never been proclaimed. Were they intending to outstrip him in reaching out to virgin fields, that they might have a real cause for boasting? It is evident that it suited them better to boast in what was already accomplished by another, rather than endure the toil and privation of a missionary journey with all its difficulties and dangers.
Paul had a right to boast, if anyone had. He ought to have been so high in their esteem that no one could displace him in their regard, least of all those who had no real claim on them and who chose to defame the one who had toiled and suffered for them in their very midst.
II Corinthians 11:1-33
1 Paul did not wish the Corinthians to divide their allegiance among a number of men, nor indeed, to yield it to anyone but Christ. When a virgin is engaged, she is no longer free to follow other men, but should keep herself for her affianced. So with us. Let us not follow men, but be single toward Christ. The point in this figure is confined to the singleness and purity of the espoused virgin. It must not be overstretched into an allusion to the marriage state. The faithful in Israel are the bride of the Lambkin.
Israel was Jehovah's wife, but was divorced for her unfaithfulness. John the Baptist introduced the bride to the Bridegroom. His disciples left him for his Lord. The new Jerusalem will be on earth, the home of the twelve tribes of Israel. Ours is a heavenly allotment.
4 The newcomers in Corinth did not have anything to proclaim more than Paul had already made known to them. Paul’s speech may have been plain, but his knowledge was not deficient by any means. In this, more than in anything else, he was far beyond any other apostle. He knew all that the Circumcision had to proclaim. They could tell him nothing that he did not fully apprehend already. They, on the other hand, had to learn of his commission and the truth he taught, from him. Peter, the greatest of them, found some things in his epistles hard to understand (2 Pet.3:16). We may well go further than his own words, and acknowledge that he towers far above all the rest, especially in those later revelations which, at the time this epistle was penned, had not yet been made known.
7 The only charge they could sustain against him was that he had proclaimed the evangel to them without receiving anything from them, not even enough to pay for his scanty wants. Poor Macedonia helped to supply his necessities in rich Corinth. Here is an excellent example for our modern evangelism. Where are the evangelists today who can say, I have preached the evangel gratuitously? Did these opponents of Paul in Corinth follow in his footsteps in this regard? Their mercenary motives would doubtless lead them in quite an opposite extreme.
13 Satan changes his tactics to conform to God's administrations. At times he deceives, and again he destroys. Peter speaks of him as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet.5:8). Such will be his course in the judgment era following the present administration of grace, when the epistles of Peter will have their application. Now Satan is transfigured into an angel of light. He is not hideous, but beautiful. His servants stand for righteousness and pose as apostles of Christ. His world is not found in the sinks of iniquity, but in the efforts to educate and reform mankind apart from the blood of Christ. He deceives by assuming the very role which he is popularly supposed to oppose.
20 Paul's patient and forbearing behavior among them was in striking contrast to the course of his detractors. They treated the Corinthians like slaves, while Paul served them like a slave. They devoured their substance. Paul provided for himself by his own labor or the gifts of other ecclesias. They took what they could obtain. Paul refused to take anything from them. They set themselves high above the Corinthians. Paul humbled himself among them. They even treated them to personal indignities. Paul confesses ironically that he was too weak to intimidate them in this fashion. And yet they not only tolerated but actually relished such treatment!
22 "Hebrews" denotes not merely Israelites, but that party in the nation which was zealous for the law and the traditions, in contrast to the Hellenists, who were tainted with Greek culture. (See Ac.6:1).
22 Paul now, in his assumed imprudence, compares himself with them. As to physical descent, he can match them on every point. But when it comes to his service, he stands unparalleled and unapproachable. Here was a man by no means strong, often suffering from some form of physical infirmity, leading a life of incessant peril, enduring and daring all for the sake of the evangel. The record in Acts seems full of his sufferings, but it is evident that the account in Acts is by no means complete. There is no record of the five Jewish scourges. Only one of the Roman beatings, the one at Philippi, is elsewhere mentioned. The stoning was at Lystra (Ac.14:19). Not one of the shipwrecks is found in the account in Acts, for the one there recorded was long after this.
26 Travel was attended with much hazard in Paul's time, especially as he probably went unattended and unarmed. But more dangerous than the robbers who infested the highways was the constant plotting of the Jews to kill him, and the opposition on all sides to his evangel, which often clashed with the prejudice and material interests of the nations.
32 When Paul returned from Arabia to Damascus and preached boldly in the name of Jesus, he confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus, proving that he was proclaiming the Messiah. Here was something for him to boast about! But no. He boasts only in his weakness. He had no strength to withstand the Jews who sought to kill him. They had the whole garrison of the city on the alert to arrest him. So he boasts in his humiliating escape, being lowered through the wall, probably at some overhanging window, in a wicker basket!
II Corinthians 12:1-21
1 Now, however, Paul comes to that which is doubtless, his greatest ground for glorying. Fourteen years before finds him on his first missionary journey after his severance at Antioch. At Lystra he is stoned and left for dead (Ac.14:26). It is more than likely that this, the time when his battered body was supposed to be finished with this life, is when he is transported in spirit to the third heaven. There are three heavens in Scripture. The first was of old (2 Pet.3:5) and perished, but was followed by "the heavens which are now" (2 Pet.3:7). But these, too, are transient. The third heaven is viewed by the apostle John in the Unveiling (Un.21:1). John, however, does not enter the new heaven, but confines himself to a description of the new earth. Paul entered the third heaven and there saw (what he afterward revealed in his Perfection Epistles) the universal supremacy of Christ and the supernal dignity and bliss conferred on the ecclesia which is Christ's body. He also enters the new earth and its park, which John describes (Un.22:2) . All of this he had seen, but he was not allowed to disclose it until the time was ripe. This came when Israel's apostasy was full blown, as recorded at the close of the book of Acts. Till then he does not even claim to be the man who had seen and heard such transcendent revelations.
7 Who would not be elated beyond measure at such revelations as had been confided to him? But Paul had good reason to refrain from boasting. A painful physical infirmity was given him to keep him humble. A thorn in the flesh is hardly adequate, a splinter is nearer, but still too weak an expression, for Paul would not entreat thrice for the removal of some minor distress. But it was not removed. Instead, he received grace and the assurance that God's power finds infirmity its fittest tool. He needs none of man's strength. It hinders the manifestation of His power. O, that we could learn this lesson! We repine and are dejected when infirmity and persecution and necessity press upon us, when we should rejoice. Paul delighted in them, not for their own sake, but that the power of Christ may be manifested through them. May His grace be our sole sufficiency!
14 What a fund of fatherly affection is revealed in his protest, "I am not seeking yours but you!" And it must have humbled them to think of their own lack of care and consideration. They deserved nothing further at his hands. But instead of rebuking them and asserting his rights as an apostle, he proposes to lavish still more affection on them. And he will do this even if it should still further dampen their affection for him. Is not this a reflection of God's dealings with us in grace? We accept His bounty with all too feeble a response, yet He is not offended, but pours it out in more lavish style.
16 Paul anticipates a subtle insinuation which his enemies might suggest, even if he had cleared himself of their charges. He had sent Titus and others to them. Perhaps he had used them as tools to overreach them, so as to shield himself from blame. But it seems that Titus and those whom he had dispatched to them all were worthy delegates of the apostle, for they followed the same course he had done.
19 Thus he closes his appeal. His own defense was necessary for their edification.
21 It was probably some months before Paul fulfilled his intention of visiting them again in person. During the interval he went over Macedonia, and possibly as far as Illyricum, giving them much exhortation. But all this time his heart was in Corinth. He had written to them. He had sent messengers to them. They had given him much sorrow not unmixed with joy. He had exhorted and he had threatened. He had made it plain that he would not spare when he came again in person. Can we imagine his feelings as he approached the city? How he shrank from being severe! Yet he must be severe, should it be necessary. Doubtless, the majority would receive him with hearts full of joy and affection. But what of the rebellious minority? It was with such powerful emotions that he followed this epistle some months later.
It would seem from the uncanonical epistle of Clement, that his efforts for the Corinthian ecclesia were not in vain, but bore precious fruit. According to Acts (Ac.20:2), he stayed in Greece three months, and, as usual, had to leave because the Jews lay in wait for him.
II Corinthians 13:4-14
4 The power of Christ had been manifested amongst the Corinthians, yet Paul reminds them that even He was once crucified in utter weakness. Pilate and Herod and the chief priests all seemed stronger than He. But out of that very weakness came the power that saved them and that triumphed over His adversaries and that raised Him to the highest place in all the universe. So, says Paul, will it be with my weakness. The same power that raised Christ from the dead will impart strength to my weakness, and triumph over my adversaries.
7 Paul had no desire, however, to exercise the power he possessed. This might serve to prove his qualification for the office of an apostle, but it would be ill for them. Rather would he appear as disqualified and spare them such a proof as this. No matter what he did, however, it would be for the sake of the truth, for he had no power against the truth.
10 Edification should ever be the aim of God's servant in dealing with His erring saints. All other means should be exhausted before sharpness and, severity should be used. They are a last resort, and seldom need be called into play if the example of Paul were followed, as it is given us in this epistle.
11 The epistle closes with characteristic tokens of affection. Throughout the appeal is to the feelings. This is especially true of the evangel and its proclamation. God on His part beseeches the sinner to be conciliated. The saint is reconciled. He is not merely righteous but at perfect peace with God. This is the fruit of the evangel which is so delicious to God's heart and to ours. Let us not fail to appreciate the marvelous affection of His message!