2 Corinthians 1-6

2C0 1-6  •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The second epistle to the Corinthians was written not long after the first, and when the apostle was in Macedonia (2 Cor. 7), having gone there to meet Titus, who had been to Corinth to ascertain the present condition of the assembly in that city, and the effect made on the saints by Paul’s former letter. In the former he had told them how to deal with the offender; in this one he stirs them up to forgive him, as really repentant.
More restricted in its range than the first epistle, which, though addressed primarily to the assembly in that city, takes in all professing Christians as well, this one, though written and sent to Corinth, was for the benefit also, we learn, of “all the saints which are in all Achaia; “for besides treating at length of Christian ministry (2:14; 7:1), Paul herein Writes of some things with which saints in Achaia were especially interested; viz., the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, in which service the Macedonian saints had shone so brightly (8., 9), and the proof of his apostleship, which had been called in question at Corinth. Questions these were of more local interest than those treated of in the former epistle, yet not devoid of interest for saints in all time.
The first epistle was written whilst Paul was in great anxiety about the assembly at Corinth 2 Cor. 2:44For 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. (2 Corinthians 2:4)), and whilst the work at Ephesus was progressing, despite the presence of many adversaries. (1 Cor. 16:99For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries. (1 Corinthians 16:9)) This, the second epistle, was written after the tumult raised by Demetrius the silversmith at Ephesus had ceased, and Paul had left Asia for Macedonia (Acts 20:11And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia. (Acts 20:1)), and when Titus had rejoined ‘him in that country with the welcome intelligence of the salutary effect of his former letter on the saints in the metropolis of the Roman province of Achaia; so his heart was full, both of God’s delivering power exhibited towards himself, and of joy for the conscience-work in the saints at Corinth. (7:4) Hence we gather from these two epistles something of the exercises of Paul’s heart, arising from the ministry to which he had been called, and of the sorrows and joys connected with it, to which he was no stranger. How he felt as he commenced his work in that city we read of in the former letter. (1 Cor. 2) His deep sorrow of heart, caused by the condition of the assembly (2 Cor. 2:44For 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. (2 Corinthians 2:4)), and his fear as to the effect of his former letter (7:4-9), coupled with the joy and relief that he experienced on learning from Titus how it had worked on them, we learn about in this second letter. Great as he was as an apostle, powerful as his letters were, uncompromising too as a champion for the truth of God, we are permitted in these epistles to see the man, the vessel, who felt keenly and deeply all that he was called to pass through, but who realized in proportion a joy and comfort such as one less exercised would never have known. It was no light thing to him that in places where he had been signally blessed, as Ephesus, Corinth, and Galatia, the enemy came in to make trouble and discord between him and the saints of God.
His heart full, he begins, after his customary apostolic salutation, with a thanksgiving such as is found at the commencement of no other epistle save that to the Ephesians, and the first of Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort [or encouragement, παρακλησεως]; who encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage them which are in any tribulation through the encouragement wherewith we ourselves are encouraged of God.” (1. 3, 4)
It is right to speak well of God the Father, who exercises His children that they may minister to others in similar circumstances of the encouragement wherewith they have been themselves encouraged of God. Pressed beyond measure at Ephesus, so that he despaired even of life, having the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead, he had proved delivering power as to his person, and the sustaining power of divine consolation as to his soul. Thus the enemy was outwitted. Attempting to crush the vessel of testimony at Ephesus, God had interposed, not to shield from trouble, but to bring His servant through it. And now the one so recently the object of the devil’s attack, became the channel to communicate to other saints in trouble that encouragement which had been divinely ministered to him. But more. The persecution stirred up by Satan furnished an opportunity for prayer to flow forth from saints on behalf of Paul and those in trouble. (1:11) Thus the Christian bond would be strengthened, and the natural interest in each other deepened. (vs. 14) Paul and his companions were their boast, as the Corinthians were his in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Now their prayers on his behalf he could confidently seek, for in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but in the grace of God, he had his conversation in the world, and especially toward them. (vs. 12) They knew that, and acknowledged it, and he hoped they would to the end. For already had they in part acknowledged that he was their boast, as they were his in the day of the Lord Jesus It was in this confidence that he had wished to go to them, that they might have a second benefit. But he had not made out his purpose. Was it that he was fickle, or that he purposed such a thing lightly? He could appeal to the character of his ministry among them in refutation of such an idea. So he reminds them of the tenor of it. “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in Him is yea. For whatever [ὅσαι] promises there are of God, in Him is the yea, wherefore through Him also is the Amen, to the glory of God by us. Now He that stablisheth us with you in [είς] Christ, and has anointed us is God, who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” (vss. 19-22) All here is definite and unchanging, but only in connection with Christ. “Whatever are the promises of God, in Him is the yea.” Therefore God has firmly connected us with Him, that we may have part in their fulfillment. So we are anointed, that we may know the truth (1 John 2:2020But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. (1 John 2:20)); we are sealed by the Spirit; thus marked by God as His own; and we have the Spirit too as the earnest of the inheritance, which we shall share with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Definiteness and certainty being characteristics of the truth he announced, his practice was in harmony with them. Why, then, had he not revisited them? He tells them: “To spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.” (1:23) Unless God worked in them in grace, how could he revisit them with joy? For that, however, he had not waited in vain. The Corinthian offender was broken down, so that his restoration was called for, and the assembly consequently were to forgive him. Further, the apostle’s former letter had called forth an expression on the part of the mass [τῶν πλείονων] of their sorrow and of their judgment of the sin. Hence Paul could write, “If any hath caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part (that I may not overcharge) you all.” (2:5) So from the man.” Broken down in conscience and restored in soul, the punishment inflicted by the many was to be removed, “lest such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” What care had Paul evinced for God’s glory! what care does he here manifest for the offender! and what watchfulness does he show to defeat any attempt of the enemy to make discord between the Corinthian saints and himself! “To whom ye forgive anything, “I also, for what.” I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ, lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2:10, 11)
What sorrow had he passed through from learning the sad state of that assembly! What anxiety had he experienced as to the effect on them of his first letter! His whole soul, which generally went out in burning desire for the gospel, had been so overburdened, that at Troas, where a door was opened unto him of the Lord to preach the gospel of Christ, he could not take advantage of it, because Titus had not rejoined him from Corinth. So, leaving it, he went to Macedonia, on the way to Corinth, the sooner to receive tidings of them by the arrival of Titus (2:13) How little had they understood the feelings of his heart towards them! But at this point he interrupted his narrative, to resume it in chapter 7:5, by a long digression on Christian ministry, which he commences by a thanksgiving to God, who always led him in triumph in Christ, and made manifest the savor of His knowledge by Paul in every place. A sweet savor he declares he was of Christ to God in them that are saved, and in them that perish, like the perfume burnt in the triumphal procession of the conqueror-the token of death to those captives who were about to be slain, but of life to those who would enjoy the conqueror’s clemency. “But,” asks the apostle, “who is sufficient for these things? “The answer to this is supplied further on (3:5, 6). For himself, however, he could say, conscious of what God was doing by him, he did not adulterate the message, but as of sincerity, as of God, before God, he spoke in Christ. (2:14-17)
Hereupon he gives us, first, distinctive features of the Christian ministry 4:6), then states circumstances into which the exercise of it brought the laborers (2 Cor. 4:7-187But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 8We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11For 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. 12So then death worketh in us, but life in you. 13We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; 14Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. 16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18While 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. (2 Corinthians 4:7‑18)), then motives which actuated him in his service (2 Cor. 5:1-171For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: 3If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. 4For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. 5Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. 6Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 8We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 9Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 11Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. 12For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. 13For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. 14For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 16Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. 17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:1‑17)), and the message entrusted to him.
(5:18, 6:1) After that he tells them of the care with which he walked, that the ministry should not be blamed; and how he approved himself as a minister of God (6:2-10), closing this long digression with the exhortation to the Corinthians, to respond in truth to this ministry carried on among them. (6:11-7:1)
Was there need, he asks, of a letter of commendation on his behalf to them or from them? They were his epistle, known and read of all men; for they were manifestly declared to be an epistle of Christ, ministered by Paul and his fellow-laborers, written, not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tables of stone, but on fleshy tables of the heart.1 Now this illustration and contrast naturally draws attention to the history of Israel and of Moses, in Exo. 34, Which we see was in the apostle’s mind when he penned these sentences. And anyone who refers to the Greek Septuagint will see that the passage in that translation was in his mind, if not actually under his eye, at the moment this epistle was written.2
Now there are two ministries, both of which were of God; but the difference between them is immense. Paul was a minister of a new covenant, not of letter, but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit quickens. A covenant which demanded obedience from man as the terms on which he could enjoy its blessings was of no avail. Man wanted life. This by the gospel was provided. Hence he contrasts the two ministries-the one was of death and condemnation, ushered in indeed by glory, but a glory which was to pass away, paling before the brighter glory attending the ministry in which he was privileged to have part. This last was of the Sprit of righteousness, and ushered in by a glory which will never pass away. Transient then was the glory connected with the ministry of the first covenant (3:7), which itself was to pass away. (vs. 13) Abiding is the glory of that of which Paul, not Moses, was a minister, and which will never be annulled.
He had spoken of the ministry of the new covenant, not of letter, but of spirit. Now the Lord Jesus is the Spirit referred to. It all speaks of Him And the effect of this ministry was twofold. It set those free to whom it was ministered, and emboldened the minister to use great plainness of speech. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, and we all beholding the glory of the Lord prove its transforming power. With Israel it was different. They could not steadfast look at the glory in the face of Moses. Freedom in his presence they could not enjoy, though they had to behold his face resplendent with divine glory.
(Exo. 34:30, 3130And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. 31And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. (Exodus 34:30‑31)) But he subsequently veiled it, that they should not look to the end of that which is annulled (vs. 13), which is done away in Christ.3 (vs. 14) But now since that which abides is ministered a veil is no longer required. There was nothing to conceal. So Paul did not use one, but spoke with great plainness of speech, not handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
Yet veiling was still practiced. The veil rested on the heart of Israel as they read the Old Testament Scriptures; and the enemy covered or veiled the minds of those to whom the gospel had been preached, but who had refused to believe it, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine forth. Thus, on the one hand, Israelites did not see that the glory of the former ministry was eclipsed by that of the latter, and that the old covenant is done away in Christ. But when Israel shall turn to the. Lord, as it was with Moses in God’s presence so it will be with them, the veil will be removed. For the rejecters however of the gospel, whether Jews or Gentiles, there is no such prospect. The enemy blinds the thoughts of those that believe not that the light of the glad tidings of the glory of Christ, the image of God, should not shine forth. The knowledge of Christ being in glory, the accepted One on behalf of sinners, who is the image of God, gives confidence to the soul that believes it, and demonstrates what he must be who is here styled “the god of this world [or age];” namely, the enemy of God and of man, who led men to crucify God’s Son, and blinds the thoughts of the unbelievers. What malice and activity does he display! To them the gospel was veiled. That arose not from the infirmity of the messenger. Plain, indeed, was the word that was preached, and clearly was it set forth who was preached-Christ Jesus, Lord, and the apostle and his co-workers their bondsmen for Jesus’ sake. Blessed, too, was the truth made known, that the glory of God now shines in the face of Christ as once it shone in the face of Moses. (4:1-6) The enemy then worked where God’s grace was proclaimed; but the opposition was more than negative against the servants of God. Persecution was aroused, so the apostle acquaints his readers with the circumstances into which he and others were brought by the exercise of his ministry. (4:7, 8) The treasure was in earthen vessels. Of that the laborers were fully conscious, being reminded of it by their daily experience. (vs. 11) But that only evidenced that the excellency of the power was of God, and not of man; the laborers being strengthened in the inner man as they looked on things eternal and unseen. God thus enabled the vessel to bear and to serve without removing the opposition of the enemy.
Now that opposition could only extend to this life. So. Paul looked beyond its bounds, and was encouraged, and tells us how. “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (vs. 1) Two statements he here makes which deserve attention. He speaks of death as an uncertainty, of his being clothed upon with his house from heaven as that of which he was certain-language, thoughts, the exact opposite of those which are commonly met with amongst Christians. To them death is a certainty, and the future condition of blessedness at best an uncertain hope. Let us mark also the contrasts. An earthly house, a building in the heavens; a tabernacle, a building from God; dissolved, eternal. Still Paul did not desire death, but the coming of the Lord. His wish was not to be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. (vs. 4) And this is the proper Christian hope, if the person knows that being clothed (i.e. in his body now) he shall not be found naked, or unfit for the presence of God. (Rev. 3:17,18; 16:1517Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (Revelation 3:17‑18)
15Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. (Revelation 16:15)
How near the future and the eternal state of heavenly saints seemed to him! Without passing through death, he and others might be, and some will be, clothed upon with their house from heaven. Clearly in his teaching there was no room for purgatory. The proper Christian expectation is to pass at once into the fixed and eternal condition as regards the body in which we shall dwell forever with Christ, and be at home in the Father’s house. Of this the Spirit is the earnest. Hence Paul was always confident yet willing to die to be present with the Lord; for while at home in the body he was absent from the Lord. (vss. 6-8) Wherefore he labored that whether present or absent he might be acceptable (εὐάρεστος) to Him; for, though certain he was accepted, he never forgot that he had to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ to receive that which he had done. Now the judgment-seat concerns every body. Every one must stand before it. Hence with Paul to be accepted and to be acceptable were two different, but all-important, questions. He knew by the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that He was accepted; he labored to be acceptable. Thus the doctrines of grace were not weakened, though his responsibility was ever present to his thoughts. Nothing less than being acceptable to Christ would satisfy him. It befits a servant to be acceptable to his master (Titus 2:99Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; (Titus 2:9)), so not only for himself, but for others, did he desire this. (Eph. 5:1010Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:10); Heb. 13:2121Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:21))
But other considerations there were by which also he was moved. As he thought of the judgment-seat of Christ, knowing the terror of the Lord, he would persuade men. As he remembered who had died, the love of Christ constrained him. His death, by His dying for all, proved that all were dead; and He died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again. “Wherefore,” he adds, “henceforth know we no man after the flesh:yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, there is a new creation:the old things have passed away; behold, they have become new. And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself by Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” But more, “He has committed unto us,” says Paul, “the word of reconciliation.” “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” That was true when the Lord was on earth. But He has been rejected; so now, ere judgment is poured out, God has raised up a ministry of reconciliation, and provided the message, the tenor of which the apostle sets forth. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech by us:we pray in Christ’s stead, Be reconciled to God. He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
He was not ashamed of the gospel; for it was God’s power unto salvation. (Rom. 1:1616For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)) He did not adulterate the message (2 Cor. 2:1717For 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. (2 Corinthians 2:17)); for what more fitted to attract any one who would listen than the story of God’s love to the world, and the proof of it-the surrender of His Son to die for sinners? What more powerful motive could there be to induce a human creature to live to Christ than the knowledge that He died for him. True, all are not attracted by it; all are not won by it. True, too, it is that Christians need to be reminded of it; a witness surely of what man’s wretched heart is. Nothing, however, that Paul could have urged would have made the gospel more powerful, or his ministry more successful. Hence he only exhorts them not to receive the grace of God in vain, reminding them of the special characteristic of the present time, during the Lord’s rejection by the nation of Israel, that now is a well-accepted time, now is a day of salvation. After which he tells them of his walk, and of the proofs by which he and his fellow-laborers were commended as ministers of God. (6:1-10) Then, his heart full, his mouth was opened to the Corinthians in earnest desire for faithfulness to God on their part. He had reminded them of the character of the day in which through grace they and we are living, as described by the prophet. (Isa. 49:88Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; (Isaiah 49:8)) He now would remind them of a principle, enunciated in one of the precepts of the law (Lev. 19:1919Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee. (Leviticus 19:19)), applicable to saints, though they are not under law. “Be not diversely yoked (ἑτεροζυγουν) with unbelievers. For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an Unbeliever? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” Five important questions thus follow close one upon another, indicative of the ways of some at Corinth, but illustrative too of the immense change introduced by the gospel. After that he sets forth special Christian privileges under three distinct heads. They were a Hence having the prom temple of the living God; they were His people; they were His sons and daughters. (6:16-18) A threefold ground of exhortation this is to holiness. (1) As God’s assembly at Corinth they were His temple. Of old He dwelt in the midst of Israel in the tabernacle; now He dwells in the company of His people as His shrine; a closer association this than Israel ever knew or will know. (2) As His people, though surrounded by evil, they were, like the remnant of Isa. 52, to be separate from it. (3) They were in a known relationship to Him of which saints in Israel could never have spoken. He was the Father of Israel as a people (Exo. 4:2222And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: (Exodus 4:22)); of this Jeremiah too could write (31:9); but none before the cross could say they were His sons and daughters. And who is their Father? Jehovah-Shaddai. As Shaddai He revealed Himself to Abraham. As Jehovah He made Himself known to Moses. Now the God of Abraham and of Israel is our Father if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (7:1)
C. E. S.
1. Or, as some read, “fleshy tables, your hearts.”
2. Compare δεδοξασμένη, δεδόξασται, κάλυμμα “ἡνἱκα;”δἀυ.” ... .περιηρεἰτο τὸ κάλυμμα of Exodus with δεδόξασται, δεδοξασμένον, καλυμμα, ἡνίκα δ’ἄ.....περιαιρειται τό καλυμμα of 2 Cor. 3
3. Throughout this portion καταργὲιν, to annul, is used of the glory and of the covenant, and πειριαιρειν, to remove, of the veil. Hence, in verse 14, it is the covenant it would seem, not the veil, that is said to be done away in Christ