Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

2 Corinthians 1

Verses 1-24

DURING THE STAY at Ephesus, Timothy had been sent in advance into Macedonia (Acts 19:22), which accounts probably for the omission of his name at the beginning of the first epistle. By the time the second was written both Paul and Timothy were in Macedonia, and hence his name appears.

The opening salutation given, the Apostle at once gives expression to the thankfulness and comfort and encouragement that filled his heart. He traces it all back to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. Comfort had been poured into the heart of Paul, and he returned it Godward in the form of blessing or thanksgiving.

This however was not the end of it, for it also flowed outward for the help of others. Having been through heavy tribulation and received abundant comfort from God, he turned it to account and traded with it for the comfort of those similarly suffering. This is, without a doubt, an important principle in the ways of God. Whatever spiritual favour we receive from God, whether comfort, or joy, or warning, or instruction, or anything else, we are not to treat it as though it were entirely personal to ourselves, but rather as something granted us to be shared with others. We are never to forget the oneness of the saints of God. Indeed, we believe that we really never possess things in their fulness until we do begin to pass them on to others. A Christian poet has said,

For we must share if we would keep

That good thing from above;

Ceasing to give, we cease to have;

Such is the law of love.

The poet’s word is undoubtedly true. If we do not use what we have, we ultimately lose it. Again and again, does the Lord pass His servants through trying circumstances in order that they may learn valuable lessons and obtain the needed grace; and having done so, that thus qualified in an experimental way, they may become more efficient in helping others.

Another important principle comes to light in verse 2 Corinthians 1:5. God suits and proportions the consolation to the sufferings. If the sufferings are slight the consolation is slight. If the sufferings abound, the consolations abound. The sufferings, be it noted, are “of Christ.” That is, they are not only endured for His sake, but they are of the same character as those which He endured because of His absolute identification with God and His interests.

Such sufferings, the sufferings of Christ in His people, are always followed or accompanied by consolation, which is ministered through Christ.

In verses 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, one word occurs (in various forms) no less than ten times. It is translated six times by comfort, and four times by consolation. It indicates a “cheering and supporting influence,” and in Darby’s New Translation is rendered consistently by “encourage” or “encouragement.” A slightly different form of the word is applied to the Holy Spirit by our Lord, and in John 14:15, John 14:16, is translated “Comforter.” In the same verses the tribulation, the trouble, the afflictions, the suffering, are only mentioned seven times: so that even in these verses the encouragement over-abounds in comparison with the sufferings. Without a doubt, herein lay the supernatural fortitude of the martyrs. Called of God to face unusual suffering, they were carried through it on a wave of unusual encouragement. The cheering and supporting influence abounded in their cases.

There is very little persecution from the world today in the English-speaking regions. For a century and a half great quietude and toleration has prevailed without, and it has synchronized with a period of disintegration and doctrinal laxity within. The sufferings that characterize the saints are mainly of the order spoken of in the first epistle, “many are weak and sickly among you,” or else troubles connected with trying circumstances, and the like. The sufferings of which Paul speaks in these verses are very largely unknown by us. The encouragement of which he speaks is also very largely unknown. The saint overflowing with encouragement in the midst of severe persecution is a sight but rarely seen. This we say to our shame, and our loss as well.

In verses 2 Corinthians 1:6-7 the Apostle links the Corinthians with himself in a very beautiful way. Carnal though they had been and feeble as to many things they yet had partaken in sufferings akin to those of the Apostle, and this fact in itself might yield them encouragement. Then in addition it was certain that in due season they would partake also of the encouragement.

This leads Paul to allude plainly to the special tribulation he had suffered in Ephesus, the capital of Asia. In Acts 19:1-41, the occasion is called, “no small stir,” but his words in verse 2 Corinthians 1:8 reveal to us that it was even more critical and full of danger than we should deduce from Luke’s account of it. Death evidently stared him in the face. Later in the epistle he recounts his experiences as a servant of the Lord, and speaks of being “in deaths oft.” This was one of the times when he was in death.

The riotous mob in Ephesus put upon him the sentence of death, and did their best to execute it. The Apostle met the situation with the “sentence of death” in himself. Thereby he was brought to nothing as to any hope or trust in himself, or in any powers that he possessed. He was shut up to God and His power. The God whom he trusted is the God who raises the dead, and who therefore would undo all that the mob might have done, had they been permitted to do their worst.

God however had intervened and held them in check. Paul and his friends had been delivered on that day, and were still being delivered. The Apostle did not contemplate the danger ceasing. The rather he knew that it would continue throughout his course. So he anticipated that he yet would be delivered, and that the Corinthians would have the privilege of helping to this end with their prayers. Then indeed God’s gracious answers would call forth a larger volume of thanksgiving. If many had joined in the request, many would join in the giving of thanks.

What gave him such boldness in requesting the prayers of the Corinthians was that he had a good conscience as to his whole manner of life. The simplicity and sincerity which are of God had marked him, and the wisdom which is of the flesh had been ruled out. This was true as to his general attitude in the world, but especially true as regards his course amongst the saints. He knew that in thus boasting he was only stating what the Corinthians themselves recognized right well. There had been those amongst the Corinthians who had aimed at defaming him, and at prejudicing them against him. The effect of this had by now been partly removed, for, as he says in verse 2 Corinthians 1:14, “Ye have acknowledged in part that we are your rejoicing.” That is, they had acknowledged in part that he was their boasting, even as they were his, in the day of the Lord Jesus. They were thus in considerable measure in happy accord.

In this delicate way does he allude to the great improvement that had come over the feelings of the Corinthians towards himself since the dispatch of his first epistle. But let us take to heart the fact that he based his request for prayer upon the simplicity and godly sincerity of his life. We hear Christians pretty frequently asking prayer from one and another. Sometimes we ask for prayer ourselves. But can we always ask for it upon this basis? We fear not; and possibly this accounts for a good deal of prayer and intercession being unanswered. For our lives, and all the secret motives governing them, are perfectly open to the eye of God.

Even before, when writing the first epistle, Paul had confidence that the relations between himself and them, though for the moment imperilled would be of this happy order. Because of this he had proposed to visit them previously, even before he took his journey into Macedonia. However things had been ordered otherwise, and the projected visit had not taken place. Here let us pause a moment. Even an apostle, you see, had plans disarranged and upset, and was led of God to record that fact for us in Scripture. The change, as we shall see presently, though not exactly ordered of God was overruled of God for ultimate blessing. Guidance may reach the servant in many ways; and if he misses direct guidance he may yet find even his mistakes overruled for blessing. Our concern should be to maintain that simplicity and godly sincerity of which verse 2 Corinthians 1:12 speaks.

Now those who were opponents used even this change of plans as a ground of attack. They insinuated that it indicated that Paul was a man of lightness, and shallowness of purpose: that he had no depth of character: that he would say one thing today and another thing tomorrow. The Apostle knew this and therefore he asked the question of verse 17. Was he a man swayed merely by fleshly impulse, so as to be pulled easily in this direction or that—saying yes today, and no tomorrow?

He answered this question by an appeal to his preaching when first, together with Sylvanus and Timotheus, he came amongst them. There had been nothing indefinite or contradictory about that. When he says, “Our word toward you was not yea and nay,” he alludes apparently to the manner of his preaching. Then in the following verse he mentions the great theme of his preaching—Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Him everything has been firmly established for God. In Him is eternal stability.

Having such a theme, Paul’s preaching was marked by a rock-like definiteness and certainty. The same definiteness and certainty should mark all the preaching of the Word today. Modernistic preachers, in the very nature of things, can only preach ideas—ideas based upon the latest pronouncements of speculative science, which are for ever changing. Their word most emphatically is, “yea and nay.” The statements of today, strongly affirmed, will be negatived before very many years have passed, just as the statements of not many years ago are negatived today.

We need not be unduly perturbed by the modernists. Their little day will soon be over, their vacillating pronouncements silenced. Let us be careful to preach the unchanging Christ in an unchanging way.

There is a very definite contrast between the “yea and nay,” of verse 2 Corinthians 1:19, and the “yea and.. Amen,” of the following verse. The former indicates that which is vacillating and contradictory: the latter that which is definitely affirmed, and then unswervingly confirmed in due season.

Man is fickle. With him it is frequently yes on one occasion and no the next. Moreover man is contradictory when it is a question of God and His will. Again and again does he break down, and consequently negative all that God desires for him. His reply to God’s will is uniformly “Nay.” The opposite of this is found in Christ, for “in Him was, yea.” He said “Yes” to every purpose and desire of God.

And not only was the yea found in Him but the Amen also. He not only assents to all the will of God, expressed in His promises, but He proceeds to carry all out, and bring all to full and final completion. In Him the thing is done, and shall be done, until a great Amen can be put to all God’s pleasure, so that God is glorified. And further, He obtains a people who become His servants for the carrying out of the Divine will: so that the two words, “by us,” can be added at the end of verse 2 Corinthians 1:10. What glorious stability and security is here! What confidence, what repose garrisons the heart that rests in Christ!

The Son of God, preached by Paul among the Corinthians, bore this wonderful character. Hence the solidity and certainty of his preaching. Hence also the stability which characterized Paul himself, and which is properly the character of every true Christian. We have been established in Christ. And it is God who has done it. What man does, he may very likely undo at some subsequent period. What God does, He does for ever.

We are thus firmly established in Christ—the Christ in whom is established all the counsel of God—by an act of God. Let us lay hold of this fact, for it lifts the whole thing on to a plane immeasurably above man. We have received too, the anointing of the Spirit equally by an act of God.

Bear in mind that the significance of “Christ” is “the Anointed One.” So verse 2 Corinthians 1:21 shows us that we are anointed as those who are established in the Anointed One. The Anointing reaches us as those who are connected with Him. When Aaron was anointed the “precious ointment” that was poured upon his head ran down even “to the skirts of his garments” (Psalms 133:2). Which thing was a type or allegory; for the grace and power of our exalted Head has been carried down to us His members by the anointing of the Spirit. Thus it is—and only thus—that the promises of God can be carried into effect to the glory of God “by us.” It is Christ Himself who will bring to perfect fruition the promises of God in the coming day; but He will do it by us. That is, He will carry things out in detail through His saints, who are His anointed members. If only our hearts lay hold of this, we shall be very much lifted above this present evil world.

But the Spirit of God is not only the Anointing: He is also the Seal and the Earnest. As the Anointing He connects us with Christ. As the Seal He marks us off as being wholly for God. We are the Divine possession and marked as such, just as the farmer, who purchases sheep, at once puts a mark upon them that they may be identified as his. In the book of Revelation we read how the coming “beasts” will cause all to “receive a mark” (Revelation 13:16). Those who do receive that mark will have to face the fierce wrath of God, as the next chapter shows, and Revelation 7:1-17 reveals to us that God anticipates the wicked action of the beasts by putting “the seal of the living God” on His own.

God “hath also sealed us,” and we may well rejoice in this blessed fact. But do we always bear in mind its serious implications? We cannot carry two marks, if the one mark, that has been placed upon us, is God’s mark. He is a jealous God. The mark that is upon us is exclusive. If we attempt to carry also the world’s mark—to say nothing of the devil’s mark—we shall provoke Him to jealousy, and lay up much discipline and sorrow for ourselves. Take great care, O young Christian! for the world is ever seeking to put its unholy marks upon you, as though you belonged to it. You do not belong to it, you belong to God; so be careful not to wear the seals and badges it wishes to put upon you.

Then again, the Holy Spirit is the Earnest in our hearts. If, as the Anointing, we view Him in connection with Christ; and as the Seal, more in connection with God the Father, the Earnest indicates what He is in Himself. Presently, when the promises of God reach their fulfilment, we shall be in the full flood-tide energy of the Spirit of God. But today He is the Earnest of all this in our hearts. “In our hearts,” notice: not merely in our bodies, or in our minds. Our bodies are indeed His temple. Our minds may happily be suffused with His light. But in the deepest affections of our hearts we have the earnest—the pledge and foretaste of the glory that is coming. By the Holy Ghost given to us, we may realize anticipatively something of all the good that shall be ours, when the promises of God are brought to fruition to His glory, and by us.

In these three verses (20-22) we have been conducted to a wonderful climax of blessedness; and it all springs out of the seemingly small matter of the Apostle being obliged to make it plain that he was not a man of light mind, promising things that he had no real intention of performing. He did not merely defend himself. He improved the occasion to some purpose.

Having done so, he returns in verse 2 Corinthians 1:23 to the more personal matter out of which it all sprang. Another thing had most evidently weighed with him, and helped to divert him for the moment from another visit to Corinth. He had no wish to come amongst them, only to find himself bound to act in severity by reason of sin and grave disorder still being found in their midst. Hence he had waited until he had news of the effect of the earlier epistle he had written to them. He hoped for better things. It was not that he assumed dominion over their faith, but rather that he was just a “helper,” or “fellow-worker,” to the end that they might be delivered and rejoice.

The chapter closes with the words, “by faith ye stand.” This is a fact that we ought very much to lay to heart. If he had assumed dominion over their faith in any matter, their faith in that respect would have ceased to be. He would have merely ordered them to do certain things (quite right things, doubtless) and they would have done them, not as the fruit of the exercise of faith, but mechanically. There would then have been no faith in their actions, but just the mechanical action as a kind of outward shell. And then one day they would have scandalized everyone by collapsing; just as a hut in the tropics collapses suddenly, when all the insides of the supporting posts have been eaten away by the white ants.

There are plenty of Christian folk today who would much like to live their lives on somebody else’s faith. They would like to be told what to do. Let somebody else have the exercise, and solve the problem, and issue orders as to what is the correct thing! They will be good and obedient and do as they are told. But it does not work, save disastrously. It is by faith we stand, not by somebody else’s faith. By somebody else’s faith we fall. And further, it is not good for the somebody else. Such forceful individuals begin to love having dominion over the faith of their brethren, and so becoming little popes. Consequently it ends disastrously for them.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.