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The subject of 2 Corinthians 4 is continued. St. Paul has been pointing out that amid bodily weakness and decay he is encouraged by the thought that the temporal is transient, while the spiritual is eternal. He now goes on to speak more particularly of the great prospect that sustains him—the replacement of the earthly material body by an eternal heavenly one. He hopes to survive till Christ’s coming, and receive the heavenly body without passing through the experience of death: but, if it should be ordered otherwise, he has no fear of being left by death in the disembodied condition so repugnant to the Hebrew mind, for the eternal, spiritual body will still be given him, in which he will be presented to the Lord.
1-5. Paraphrase. ’A further reason for my courage in presence of difficulty and affliction consists in my knowledge that if my body undergo the dissolution of death, I shall be endowed by God with an imperishable heavenly body. (2) My hope, however, and desire is that while still alive and in possession of this earthly body I may simply be transformed at the coming of the Lord, (3) since, if I receive it thus, I shall not be left a disembodied spirit in the state of death. (4) Our material body is a burden under which betimes we groan; but, however we may be called to part with it, we may confidently cherish the expectation of being endued with something better in its place, i.e. we may hope to be clothed with the heavenly, resurrection body, and not left naked spirits. (5) It is for this very purpose God has wrought in us: besides, He has given us His Spirit as the pledge and instalment of the resurrection life.’
1. For] introduces an additional reason for courage. Even if his earthly tent be taken down, if his body be broken up by death, God has prepared a heavenly mansion for him, a resurrection body which is eternal. Tabernacle] rather, ’tent.’ Building] contrasted with the temporary tent to which the earthly body is compared. Of God] RV ’from God.’
2. In this] i.e. in this present body. Clothed upon] St. Paul’s idea was that the heavenly body would be superimposed upon the earthly one, at the same time transforming it. Conybeare and Howson render thus: ’Desiring to cover my earthly raiment with the robes of my heavenly mansion’: cp. 1 Corinthians 15:51-54.
3. If so be, etc.] This is a parenthesis explaining clothed upon in the previous verse. AV and RV are both rather obscure: better, ’Since, once this heavenly body is assumed, we shall be in no danger of being found disembodied by death.’ Naked] i.e. disembodied spirits. The shrinking of the ancients, both Jews and Greeks, from the disembodied state as they conceived it, is well known from its expressions in their literature. See, for example, the dreariness of the spirit-world portrayed in the eleventh book of the ’Odyssey.’
4. Burdened] by the anxiety of uncertainty. Not.. unclothed] The Apostle’s desire was to gain the resurrection life without dying. He looked on Christ’s coming as comparatively near at hand: cp. 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:15.
5. He that hath wrought us] St. Paul here argues for immortality and the resurrection life from the instinctive longings of the human heart. God has planted these longings there; He has confirmed them by the pledge of His Spirit in conscience, aspiration, and all spiritual blessings; and He will not in the end disappoint us: cp. ’Thou wilt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption’ (Psalms 16:10)—’Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why:
He thinks he was not made to die; And Thou hast made him: Thou art just.’ (Tennyson.)
6-8. Paraphrase. ’With this hope in our hearts we are always courageous. We know that while we live in this mortal body we are away from the Lord, and that when we put off this body we shall be in His presence; (7) (for we live in anticipation, not yet having realised the vision of Christ.) (8) We are courageous, I repeat; and are even ready to put off this mortal body and to be at home in the presence of the Lord.’
8. Absent from the body] St. Paul here grapples with the possibility of death before the second coming of Christ. To die was ’to be with Christ which is far better’ (Philippians 1:23). Even death could not separate him from the love of Christ. If he did not then gain the full resurrection life, he would still be in Christ’s presence. Perhaps his idea is that suggested in Revelation 6:9-11.
9. Present or absent] i.e. living or dead.
Accepted] RV ’well-pleasing.’
10. Appear] RV ’be made manifest’; our conduct and character being disclosed. Receive the things] i.e. the recompense of them: cp. Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12.
(iv) 5:11-19. The Love of Christ the Apostle’s Inspiration
In the recollection of this judgment the Apostle preaches. His motive is wholly unselfish. It is the love of Christ which constrains him. For the love of Christ was shown in His dying for all men in order to transform them into a new life. If any man, therefore, be in Christ, he lives a new life through the mercy of God, who has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son to be our Saviour, and has given to His Apostles the message of reconciliation.
11-15. Paraphrase. ’Seeing, then, that we realise the awe inspired by Christ our judge, we try to convince men of our faithfulness and unselfishness: to God, indeed, our sincerity is already manifest, and also, I trust, to you in your secret thoughts. (12) Do not think that this is mere self-commendation. Look upon it rather as suggesting the answer you may make to our enemies when they try to belittle our work and boast of their external advantages. (13) For if in our enthusiasm we are mad (as they say), it is for God’s glory; or, if we are sensible, it is for your benefit. (14) For the love of Christ to men is our incentive; because we are convinced that in Christ’s death for the sin of all we all received power to die to sin, (15) so that we should live a new and transformed life, thinking not of our own desires, but of His will who died for us and rose again.’
11. Terror] the reverence or fear inspired by the thought that Christ is judge (2 Corinthians 5:10).
We persuade men] i.e. of our sincerity, with a view to winning them. In your consciences] The Corinthians as a Church believed in the Apostle.
12. Glory in appearance] The false teachers boasted of external advantages (perhaps of having seen the Lord), which were no evidence of character and spiritual life.
13. Beside ourselves] His enemies declared that he was mad; probably owing to his enthusiasm and vehemence in preaching: cp. Acts 26:24.
14. The love of Christ] i.e. the love Christ has shown towards us. Judge] i.e. have come to this conclusion. One died for all] i.e. as the head and representative of the race. ’In Christ’s saving death the moral transformation of all, which I may call death to sin, was included, and his saving death had this meaning and purpose; namely, that they who are quickened into a holy life in Him should not live selfishly, but should give themselves up to His service who died and rose to save them’ (Stevens).
16-19. Paraphrase. ’Since, therefore, it is holiness alone that is of importance, we, unlike our opponents, pay no attention to men’s outward appearance and circumstances; even in the case of Christ, though I once regarded Him as merely a man and a Jew, yet I look at Him in this way no longer, but rather as my Saviour and Risen Lord. (17) Whoever then knows Christ in this higher way is indeed a new man. He looks on life from a higher point of view. His ideals and aspirations have been transformed: all things are new to him. (18) And this change is due to God, who removed the barrier sin had made between Himself and us, and gave to us his Apostles the message of His saving grace. (19) And that message is this, that in Christ’s life and work we see God casting down the barrier that divided us from Him, and proclaiming forgiveness and love to all mankind: and this is the message of reconciliation which He committed to us.’
16. After the flesh] i.e. have regard to what is outward rather than to what is inward, to circumstances and position rather than to character and personality. Known Christ after the flesh] St. Paul once looked for a Messiah as a Jewish conqueror, and in the light of this expectation regarded Jesus as (at best) a prophet who had made claims which he was unable to substantiate, and whose career had terminated (perhaps deservedly) at Calvary; but now he looks on Jesus in the light of His atoning death and glorious resurrection, and sees in Him the Christ of God.
17. A new creature] or, as we would say, a new man. He looks on things from a different standpoint, tries them by a different standard, because he is united to Christ in such a way that he lives always under Christ’s indwelling, purifying, and transforming influence. Are become new] A new world opens to the new man.
18. All things] i.e. all these changes.
The ministry of reconciliation] the whole message of the gospel conveyed by preaching, teaching, the sacraments, and the example of Christians, assuring men of God’s love and leading them to accept the will of God as revealed in Christ as their own.
19. God was in Christ, etc.] When we see Christ teaching, healing, forgiving, comforting, and dying for men, we are to see there the expression of God’s love and deep desire. In this atoning work Christ was ’the express image of His Person.’ Reconciling the world unto himself] The desire for reconciliation came from God.
(d) 5:20-7:1. Appeal for Purity of Life
As an ambassador of Christ St. Paul entreats them to be reconciled to God. And not only does he make this entreaty in words; he appeals to them by his life and conduct in all the varied experiences through which he has to pass. He asks them for greater affection towards himself, and reminding them of God’s promises to the pure, bids them keep themselves ’unspotted from the world.’
20, 21. Paraphrase. ’We, then, are ambassadors in Christ’s place, conveying to you God’s message and desire; we ask you, speaking in Christ’s name, to accept this great salvation. (21) It was to secure our salvation that God gave up His sinless Son to death, making Him bear the penalty of our guilt, that we might be made partakers of His divine nature by submitting ourselves wholly to Christ’s transforming influence.
20. Be ye reconciled to God] It is not God who needs to be reconciled to man, but man who needs to be reconciled to God.
21. Made him to be sin for us] Christ had to bear not the guilt, but the burden of sin. He bore its penalty not as a punishment, but as the innocent suffers for the guilty; feeling all its shame and horror, but free from the sense of guilt and degradation. Hence St. Paul says not, ’He hath made Him to be a sinner,’ but ’He hath made Him to be sin.’ The spectacle of Christ thus bearing our penalty touches the heart and conscience, and makes us respond to the love wherewith He hath loved us: cp. Romans 8:3, Romans 8:4.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25