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II Corinthians 1-4 Listen
An introduction to II Corinthians: New letter, same problems
A few months have passed since Paul wrote I Corinthians (see notes). It is believed by many that I Corinthians was written by Paul in the spring of 55, and II Corinthians was then written in the fall of 56. We'll see as we read this second letter to the Corinthians that many of the same problems appear to still exist. He doesn't mention their abuse of communion or lawsuits in this letter; maybe they corrected those. Paul does a lot of reflecting on his own life and ministry in this epistle. By the way, Paul credits Timothy as a co-sender of this letter - perhaps in an effort to build Timothy up in their eyes.
The God of all comfort (II Corinthians 1:1-11)
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:
2 Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
7 And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
Why do good people have trouble? According to Romans 5:1-5 (see notes), adversity from Satan builds our faith and gives us patience. That's the nature of trial. James 1:2-5 (see notes) tells us that wisdom from God through trial is what God wants us to have. Trial is more palatable when we understand the "why" of the trial. Paul gives another angle here in this passage to trial - its helpfulness to others. Notice what he says in these verses: When we have adverse experiences, they become sources of helpful encouragement to people later on who go through the same trials (verses 3-4). He then briefly mentions the severe trials he has recently encountered. Notice verse 5, "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ." Paul says that the more adversity he endures, the more consolation he is able to offer others. But remember I Corinthians 10:13 (see notes) "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." No trial we encounter will be greater than we are able to bear.
In these opening verses, Paul uses the Greek noun "thlipsis" ("tribulation" and "trouble") and its verb counterpart "thlibo" ("afflicted") to describe his adversity. In other of Paul's writings, he uses these words interchangeably with some other key words used to describe adversity for Believers. These words and their exact meanings are to be found detailed in the article, "Trial, Testing and Temptation (Why does God allow Satan to test Believers?)." However, sometimes adversity in a Believer's life is the product of God's chastening hand because of a Believer's disobedience. That scriptural concept may be studied in detail by studying the article entitled, "Trial versus Chastisement (Why do good people have trouble?)."
It is not known with any certainty the exact nature of Paul's adversity to which he alludes in verses 8-11. Whatever the difficulties, they must have occurred during Paul's third missionary journey. See the notes on Acts 19 for more details.
How Paul wanted to be remembered (II Corinthians 1:12-14)
12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
13 For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;
14 As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Paul discusses his motivation for doing what he does. He wants to be remembered for his ministry to others and to them - nothing else. He lived a life of sacrifice for the sake of those to whom he ministered - a life without pretense (verse 12). He has ministered in "simplicity" and "godly sincerity." However, it is obvious from these two letters to the Corinthians that his sacrifice was not always appreciated. He's in good company though; there are a host of Old Testament prophets who gave their lives to warning Israel to repent, but to no avail. They too went unappreciated - even suffering adversity at the hands of the very people they were trying to deliver.
To what avail did Paul minister? There's his answer in verse 14 - that they would be his rejoicing "in the day of the Lord Jesus." What does he mean by that. Perhaps I Thessalonians 2:19-20 (see notes) will give us a little bit of insight when Paul says to those Believers, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy." Both passages refer to the reward awaiting Paul when Jesus Christ raptures Believers to Heaven. Paul had devoted several verses to this process of future reward in I Corinthians 3:10-15 (see notes).
Nothing wishy-washy about Paul's ministry (II Corinthians 1:15-20)
15 And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit;
16 And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea.
17 When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?
18 But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay.
19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.
20 For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.
These verses, in which Paul talks about his visitation plans, make a point of integrity about Paul; he was not wishy-washy about his instructions to them. Paul points out the consistency of being always on the mark ("yea") and not inconsistent with his instructions ("yea and nay"). These comments seem necessary in light of Paul's change of travel plans. He apparently cancelled a planned visit to Corinth, causing his adversaries there to be critical of his resolve.
Incidentally, we see in verse 19 a reference to the preaching of Silas and Timothy also. These accompanied Paul beginning with his second missionary journey which began in Acts 15:36 (see notes).
The work of salvation (II Corinthians 1:21-24)
21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;
22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
23 Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.
24 Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.
The work of salvation is seen in verses 21-22, "Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts."
Let's develop four important aspects of our salvation as seen in these two verses (21-22)
Verse 21 shows us that salvation is only of God. Verse 22 shows us that the Holy Spirit seals our salvation and serves as the "earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." In other words, the ministry of the Holy Spirit working in every Believer is God's earnest payment on each of us - the literal assurance that we are children of God redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and on our way to Heaven, a concept he mentions again in II Corinthians 5:5 (see notes) where he writes, "Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit." Paul wants us to know: We are sealed.
Notice two other references Paul makes to the Ephesians regarding the sealing of the Holy Spirit:
Paul is clear on this doctrinal issue of the Holy Spirit. God gives each Believer the Holy Spirit as a seal to validate and eternally protect the salvation of that Believer. This ministry of the Holy Spirit begins at salvation according to I Corinthians 12:13 (see notes), "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body..." Paul tells the Romans that each Believer is in possession of the Holy Spirit when he says in Romans 8:9 (see notes), "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." So, here's the bottom line: No one gets saved without the empowerment and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and it is that same Holy Spirit which safeguards our salvation afterward.
What letter? (II Corinthians 2:1-4)
1 But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness.
2 For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?
3 And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.
4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.
Some think the letter to which Paul refers here is I Corinthians. Others feel that Paul wrote another letter after I Corinthians that was quite specific in its treatment of some issues and individuals. No one knows for certain to which letter he is referring. Based upon verses 5-11 (see below), I lean toward this referring to a letter written after I Corinthians.
Let's forgive this guy (II Corinthians 2:5-11)
5 But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all.
6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.
7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.
9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.
10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;
11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
These verses would seem to indicate that a letter after I Corinthians had been written. If this is a reference to I Corinthians, then the man being spoken of here surely must be the one they were to boot from the church in I Corinthians 5 (see notes) for the appearance of incest. However, verse 10 seems to indicate that, whatever the transgression of the man being spoken of was, it seems to be something personally directed at Paul. That leads many scholars to conclude that it was not the man in I Corinthians 5. Paul now calls for his forgiveness by all - an action which seems appropriate if the man in question had been guilty of something like questioning or resisting Paul's authority - not a lifestyle of perceived, continuing incest.
All victory all the time (II Corinthians 2:12-17)
12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord,
13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.
14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
These remarks begin with Paul's disappointment that he was not able to link up with Titus in Troas. With no means of long-distance communication, one could only rely on finding people in the churches who had seen Titus pass through.
Paul then discusses the power of Christ in us to overcome adversity when he says in verse 14, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place." Despite his concern for Titus, he expresses his "triumph in Christ" and the privilege of sharing the "savour" (i.e. fragrance) of the knowledge of Christ. We are always triumphant in Christ.
Carrying the "savour" example a little further, verses 15-16 are curious, "For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?" Paul preached the Word with sincerity; he is probably speaking to the reality that the words of the Gospel result in the saving of some (good fragrance) and the condemnation of others (bad fragrance). While not explicitly stated, many see this as Paul's analogy of a Roman victory procession. We are told that after battle, the Roman soldiers march through the streets of Rome upon their return. In this parade, they displayed their spoil through the streets, forcing the captives to march with them. This march was accompanied with the celebratory burning of incense smelled by all. Perhaps Paul was drawing from this mental image familiar to Roman citizens in his day.
What an awesome responsibility when you're talking about the eternal destination of someone's soul! The Greek word used for "corrupt" ("kapeleuo") in verse 17 literally means "to peddle." In other words, Paul points out that some preach God's Word for profit rather than with sincerity and proper motivation.
Ministers of a new covenant (II Corinthians 3:1-5)
1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?
2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:
5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
Here Paul addresses any questions regarding his authority. He makes the point in verses 2-3 that the work of the Spirit in the changed lives of the Corinthians was sufficient recommendation of Pauls ministry. This work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Corinthians validates Paul's ministry and authority.
The old covenant has been done away (II Corinthians 3:6-18)
6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:
13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:
14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.
15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.
16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Let's establish some vocabulary that is needed to bring things into clearer perspective. The words "testament" and "covenant" are exactly the same in meaning and translated from the very same Greek noun, "diatheke." This word is translated "testament" 13 times and "covenant" 20 times in the New Testament - used a total of 33 times altogether. So, literally, "Old Testament" means "Old Covenant" and "New Testament" means "New Covenant." The old covenant was based upon the Law of Moses. The new covenant is based upon grace through the finished sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Jeremiah prophesied concerning the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (see notes) where he said,
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Paul quotes these verses in Hebrews 8:8-12 (see notes) and identifies them as the new covenant. It is by the new covenant that we are saved and made righteous before God today. It will be by the new covenant that all of Israel will be saved in the future.
Paul starts in these opening verses of chapter 3 by speaking of the validity of his ministry to the Corinthians. Their very salvation commends him to them - serves as his resume. Then in verse 6 he differentiates between the old and new covenants. The old is of stone (the stone tablets brought down by Moses containing the 10 commandments), the new is by the Holy Spirit written in our hearts. He makes a further differentiation between the covenants in verse 6 as he refers to the old as "the letter" that "killeth" and the new as "the spirit" that "giveth life."
Now here's the the doctrinal point that so many of today's Christians have problems understanding: The old covenant, the Law of Moses, has been done away. Look at verses 7 and 11. Verse 7 is a direct reference to Exodus 34:29-35 (see notes) when Moses brought down the Ten Commandments from the mountain. In both verses (7 and 11) Paul says that the glory of that old covenant was "done away." Christ said in Matthew 5:17 (see notes), "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." When Christ died on the cross, he ended the need for further sacrifices under the old covenant. He was the once-for-all-time sacrifice; he, literally, fulfilled the law. Paul said this to the Colossians also in Colossians 2:14 (see notes), "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;" And Paul said in Ephesians 2:15 (see notes), "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;" Jeremiah prophesied concerning the covenant of grace in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Paul emphasizes that this is the covenant we are under in Hebrews 8:8-12 (see notes).
So, what does it all mean? It means that we are made righteous by trusting Christ as our savior. As Believers, we receive our direction from God by the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2, see notes) and not by the Law of Moses. Our law comes from within - not from without. Too many Christians still believe that they are kept righteous after salvation by keeping the Ten Commandments - a gross misunderstanding even of their original purpose. Interestingly enough, virtually none of these people have ever kept the fourth commandment, sabbath observance, in their entire lives. The sabbath is Saturday - always has been and always will be. NO WORK was to be done on the sabbath. Look at Numbers 15:32-36 (see notes) to realize that even gathering firewood on the sabbath was a violation of the fourth commandment that required death by stoning.
So, are these commandment keepers looking for some sort of credit for reasonably keeping the remaining 9 commandments? You must agree that our righteousness at salvation (or after salvation) has nothing to do with keeping the ten commandments. Paul says in verses 7 and 11 of this chapter that these commandments are "done away." They have NO SUFFICIENCY in making anyone righteous before God - before or after salvation.
Paul uses the veil placed upon the face of Moses in Exodus 34:29-35 (see notes) to work his point in verses 12-18. This figurative veil prevents people who are still trusting the Law of Moses from experiencing God's true glory. Those of us who have trusted Christ as Savior have the veil removed and fully experience the glory of God - no law, just grace. If you still need convincing regarding the Christian's relationship to the Old Testament Law and the Ten Commandments, click here to read the summary on Leviticus 19, and read the article displayed in the box to the right of this summary on "The Sabbath Day."
God's Word stands on its own (II Corinthians 4:1-7)
1 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;
2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
First of all, Paul is clear in verses 1-2 that his motivation for his ministry of proclaiming the truth of God's Word is pure. What he does, he does out of obedience to God and a desire to positively influence people for Christ.
Paul is clear that God's Word doesn't need a sell job; it stands on its own. Folks who are impacted by God's Word are not so done because we are slick and polished with our presentation; it stands on its own. Hebrews 4:12 (see notes) says, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Great things happen when you just give out the Word of God. So, what about the people who just don't seem to get it - God's Word, I mean? Why don't they get it? Verses 3-4 say that they have been blinded by Satan. Let us not forget the extreme warfare we face; Ephesians 6:12 (see notes) says, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." I Corinthians 2:14 (see notes) says, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." When the world misrepresents and bashes God's Word, it's because they are influenced by unseen powers - powers that control the mind of the "natural man." When we read the Word of God, we find it meaningful...because the Holy Spirit in Believers "spiritually discerns" it for us - literally puts it into the context of Godly Christian living. That's why in verse 5 Paul emphasizes just preach "Christ Jesus the Lord" and let the Word of God do its work.
Here's the picture presented in verses 6-7: Just as physical light shined at creation, so spiritual light shines in the hearts of those who become new creations in Christ. When Paul uses the term "earthen vessels" in verse 7, he's referring to our frail human bodies that are used by God to manifest himself. That manifestation of God through us is all the glory of God some people will ever see. It's an awesome privilege and responsibility!
We are pretty feeble instruments of God (II Corinthians 4:8-18)
8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
12 So then death worketh in us, but life in you.
13 We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak;
14 Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Paul continues his point that our strengths and abilities have nothing to do with the success of the Gospel. The power is God's. In verses 8-12 Paul lists his great hardships, but God's Word prevails.
Notice the way Paul expresses his dilemma and hope in verses 8-9:
You will notice in verses 11-12 that Paul was completely consumed with serving Jesus Christ. His statement in these two verses expresses, essentially, the same thought as his words in Galatians 2:20 (see notes), "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Paul's own agenda and desires were "crucified with Christ." His life now reflects Jesus Christ - not his own.
In verses 13-15 Paul emphasizes that God, who is able to resurrect the dead, has the ability to extend grace to others through us, regardless of whether or not we have individual sales abilities or polished social skills. He quotes from Psalm 116:10 (see notes) when he says, "We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak." His point there is that he is speaking by the same Spirit as the Psalmist in that passage. And finally, in 16-18, Paul again alludes to the feebleness of man. The affliction we endure here is nowhere near being comparable to the glories of our eternal abode with Christ. I'm reminded of Romans 8:18 (see notes) where Paul said it like this, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." It's all worth it!