II Corinthians—The Authority of the Word (2)

Paul continues to explain to the Corinthians his joy in the affect which his former letter had upon them. 

3. Paul adds another reason as to why he did not return immediately to Corinth, viz., he wanted to spare both the church and himself unnecessary grief, (II Cor. 2:1-4). If he returned to them immediately and found them in a state of anguish and spiritual uncertainty, it would make him grieve; and if that were so, he could not function as a pastor to them (who would make me glad? vs. 2). 

4. The action by the church of Corinth in disciplining the man guilty of incest is proof that the gospel produces reconciliation in the way of repentance and forgiveness (vs. 5-11). Notice how gently Paul now deals with the church regarding this entire matter. The fact that they excommunicated him indicates that as a church they were receptive to the Holy Spirit's instruction. Now they have to be careful that they do not go too far. They should think about willingness to forgive him, and make it as easy as possible for him to return to the fold of the church, lest he be swallowed up with over much sorrow, (vs. 6, 7). This sinner must have given indication of sorrow for sin and a desire for forgiveness. Now the church must confirm their love to him by receiving him again, (vs. 8). In this way the church at Corinth would show by their deeds that they were obedient to the gospel of love, (vs. 9). In this joyful activity, Paul would gladly join in and eagerly forgive him, (vs. 10). This too would prevent Satan from gaining influence by working despair in the heart of the repentant. Joyful forgiveness encourages heartfelt repentance, always! 

5. Paul explains to the Corinthians his eagerness to learn of their welfare, and having learned it to rejoice in the triumph of the gospel, (II Cor. 2:12-17). What a tremendous display of pastoral concern. He had an open door at Troas (there was a church there and they desired him to stay and preach, see Acts 20:6), but he stayed only seven days, which included his late night sermon when Eutychus fell out of the window. He was so eager to learn about the welfare of Corinth, that he had to travel on in search of Titus who was on his way back from Corinth. This is pastoral compassion at its peak. He went into Macedonia looking for Titus, and when he found him and learned of the fact that the church of Corinth received his epistle and responded correctly, he jubilantly praises God for the success of the word, (vs. 14-17). A few words describes it all, "Thanks be to God who causes us to triumph through the savor, of the gospel." Savor has to do with smell, aroma. I suppose Paul reflects upon the Old Testament sacrifice of burnt flesh, which was followed by the sweet smell of the incense. This is true of the gospel, It is God's savor, sweet in the holy nostrils, for it is effective both in them that are saved and in them that perish. Paul rejoices in that God accomplishes His purpose through the gospel. He personally rejoiced in this for God had just used him to write that important letter that bore fruit in the church of Corinth. Who is sufficient to these things, to be used by God not only unto salvation, but also unto destruction? Who will accept this mandate and bow before such fruits? Not man, but a humble servant of Jehovah will. The glory returns to God in both dimensions. 

The Corinthian saints are epistles of the Holy Spirit and as such are living proof of the power of the gospel (II Cor. 3:1-18). Paul refers to "epistles of commendation," (vs. 1). These were letters which the church would send along with a minister or missionary attesting to his orthodoxy and faithful labors (something we still do today when a minister accepts a call to another congregation). Paul raises the question of the need he has for such letters as he labors in the church of Corinth. His response is that he does not need such letters, for the members of the Corinthian church are themselves letters written by the Holy Spirit as an attestation of his labors as missionary pastor (vs. 3). In this way he also silences the accusation made by some that he labors for self acclaim, (vs. 1). The glory is God's, for it is His work, (vs. 5, 6). This writing by the Holy Spirit upon the hearts and lives of God's people is now contrasted to the Old Testament law, written upon stone, (vs. 6-11). It is contrasted as to "spirit." The old is the letter that killeth for it said, "Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them," Gal. 3:10. The New Testament spirit is different. It is liberty: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free," Gal. 5:1. Paul refers to this in verse 6 as the spirit that giveth life. Also the ministration was different. The Old Testament law was one of condemnation; the New Testament gospel administers the righteousness of Christ, (vs. 9). Finally, the contrast is that the old is done away with in Christ. He fulfilled it by keeping the law perfectly and making satisfaction for its curse upon the cross. Now, in Christ, the spirit of life remaineth forever, (vs. 11). 

The gospel preaching is so effective because of its clarity and liberating power, (vs. 12-18). Continuing the reference to Moses' brightness of face, Paul refers to the veil that had to be placed over his head, Ex. 34:33. This veil represented two things: the revelation of God was veiled in that it came as type and shadow, through the blood of lambs and feasts of grain, etc.; but also the hearts of the people were blinded as beneath a veil, (vs. 14, 15). Christ took that veil away and now the opposite is true. The gospel is God's revelation in clarity and beauty, (in vs. 18 he speaks of the glory of the Lord) and the response is that we rejoice in the freedom of God's glory. 

The effect of such a gospel is that the believer is an epistle of the Holy Spirit which proves God's indwelling presence which He accomplishes through the faithful labors of a preacher. 

7. Paul preached in plain language and no one could blame him for unbelief (II Cor. 4:1-6). The fact that some did not believe was not due to Paul's craftiness or deceitful use of the Word; but the god of this world (Satan) blinded such a one. Paul preached openly, plainly, appealing to every man's conscience. After all, the light of Christ shone upon Paul's heart (on the way to Damascus) and by the Word preached, Christ now shone forth in the hearts of the people. 

8. Even suffering did not hinder his ministry, but helped him (II Cor. 4:7-18). The treasure (his ministry as a preacher) was in an earthen vessel, so that the power and glory might be God's and not man's in any way. True, the persecution affected him. He was troubled, perplexed, cast down, bearing in his body the dying of Christ., But it did not leave him distressed (suffocated, without room to live), nor in despair (give up), forsaken (no one to help), destroyed (taken out of service). The, reason for this is "for Jesus sake," (vs. 11). The flesh must be put down so that Christ can be exalted. He is encouraged by persecution for two reasons. First, God Who raised up Christ will daily raise up Paul, and in the end raise him up to everlasting life. Secondly, affliction produces a greater degree of thanksgiving to God which ends in God's glory. He concludes by making a comparison between affliction and glory. The one is "light and for a moment"; the other has an "eternal weight." The light affliction works for that eternal weight of glory. It even made him a better minister of the gospel. Well may we ponder whether we are or would be influenced in this manner by tribulation. 

9. He was encouraged to press on in his ministry for he was sure that upon his death, God would receive him into heaven, (II Cor. 5:1-10). We can understand why Paul was encouraged by this fact. Even though our earthly house (body) may be destroyed by disease, torture, even death, we have a house with God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. What is that house? Some suggest it is a reference to a temporary, intermediate body which we will have only from the time we die to the time of the resurrection of our own body. Others suggest it is a reference to our future resurrection body. More correctly, it refers to heaven itself, heaven is the house in which the souls of the saints enter upon death to await the resurrection of their own bodies at the coming of Christ (John 14:1-3). In this present body we groan, but in death we will exchange one set of clothes (this earthly body) for a heavenly house in which we will be able to enjoy life to a greater degree. What a beautiful description of death—absent from this earthly body, but present with the Lord. For this cause we say with Paul, "We faint not!" 

10. As an ambassador of Christ, he only sought the welfare of the church (II Cor. 5:11-21). He was motivated by the fact that God would judge him, hence he sought God's approval (II Cor. 5:16). By pointing this out to the Corinthian church, Paul did not exalt himself. Rather, it gave them reason to defend Paul before his false accusers who glorify outwardly, (vs. 12). He sought the good of the church whether sane or insane (as it might appear to some, but in fact was not). God is the one Who called him as a new creature in Christ, and this qualified him to be a fit instrument to serve in the ministry of reconciliation (this is for people to return to God in the way of faith in Jesus Christ, our righteousness). With this call, he was truly an ambassador of Christ; he had authority to speak in the name of Christ and bring His message. If they oppose Paul, they oppose Christ. 

11. Paul sought their good, and this demonstrated that he was motivated by love (II Cor. 6:1-18). As a co-worker of God, see I Cor. 3:9, God was pleased to work through Paul. It seems strange to speak of "receiving the grace of God in vain," (vs. 1). Is this proof of the Arminian view of falling from grace? Grace, here, refers to the message of grace, namely redemption and reconciliation of chapter 5. If a person hears it with the outward ear, but not with the heart, he receives it in vain. The quote from Isaiah 49:8 substantiates this from the ministry of Isaiah. As a minister, he did not give offense; he was patient in the midst of all kinds of distress, faithful in many adverse circumstances, and this should prove beyond any doubt that his heart was open to them in love and he desired that they would respond in like manner, (vs. 11, 12). Here follows a beautiful description of how they should demonstrate their love by not being unequally yoked with unbelievers, but by being spiritually separated unto Jehovah. The figure of an unequal yoke was taken from farming of that day. A yoke was the wooden frame that bound two oxen together and fastened them to the plow or cart. It was crucial for the two animals to be of the same strength and temperament. Imagine the plight of the farmer who had a pony yoked with an ox. So it is true spiritually, if we are yoked to an unbeliever in marriage or in business (as a partner or union member) the Christian cannot work in the right direction. There is no concord between Christ and Belial (a name that signifies wickedness; e.g., son of Belial was a wicked man). The call to spiritual separation comes to each of us from our heavenly Father Who jealously protects those whom He loves (vs. 18). 

(To be continued)