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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verses 1-10


We have, however, this treasure in earthenware vessels, in order that the excess of the power may be God’s and not from us: in everything being afflicted, but now helpless, perplexed, but not utterly perplexed, pursued, but not deserted, thrown down, but not perishing: always bearing about in the body the putting to death of Jesus, that also the life of Jesus may be made manifest in our body. For always we who live are being given up to death because of Jesus, in order that also the life of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death is at work in us, but life in you.

But having the same spirit of faith according as it is written, “I have believed: for which cause I have spoken,” (Psalms 116:10,) also we believe: for which cause we also speak. Knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sake, that grace, having multiplied, may by the greater number cause the thanksgiving to abound for the glory of God. For which cause we do not fail. For if indeed our outward man is corrupting nevertheless the inward man is being renewed day by day. For the momentary lightness of our affliction is working out for us exceedingly to excess an eternal weight of glory; while we do not look at the things seen, but at the things not seen: for the things seen are temporary; but the things not seen, eternal.

For we know that, if our earthly house of the tent be taken down, a building from God we have, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens. For indeed in this tent we groan, longing to put on as overclothing our dwelling-place which is from heaven. If, at any rate, also clothed, not naked, we shall be found. For indeed we who are in the tent groan, being burdened: because we do not wish to lay aside our clothing but to put on overclothing, that the mortal may be swallowed up by life. And He who has wrought in us for this very thing is God, who has given to us the earnest of the Spirit. Being then of good courage always, and knowing that while at home in the body we are away from home from the Lord- For by faith we walk, not by appearance. But we are of good courage, and are well-pleased rather to go away from home from the body, and to go home to the Lord.

For which cause we also make it a point of honour, whether at home or away from home, to be well-pleasing to Him. For all of us must needs be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may obtain the things done through the body, in view of the things he has practised, whether good or bad.

The grandeur of the Gospel, expounded in 5, 6, Paul now reconciles with the unfavorable circumstances of those who proclaim it, by giving in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 the purpose of their afflictions, viz. to reveal the power of God; and sets forth in 2 Corinthians 4:13 to 2 Corinthians 5:10 the motives which prompt and enable him to speak amid hardships and perils so great.

2 Corinthians 4:7. This treasure: the life-giving Gospel of the glory of God.

Earthenware vessels: human bodies, liable to be destroyed in the confusion of the world and the storm of persecution.

In order that etc.; implies that the earthenware vessels are part of a deliberate purpose of God.

The excess of the power: which preserves unbroken these fragile vessels, thus proving that it exceeds the force of the storm around.

May be God’s. God designed that the vessels should be preserved by His own power; and not by a power inherent in, and proceeding from the vessels, as would have been had they consisted of material strong enough to resist the storm. And for this end He committed the gospel treasure to men whose bodies were liable to be destroyed by the foes whose fury He foresaw the Gospel would arouse.

From us: as if we were the source of power.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9. Description of the weakness of the earthenware vessels, and of their preservation.

Helpless: confined in narrow space. Same word in 2 Corinthians 6:12; Romans 2:9. See notes. This verse proves that it denotes something worse than afflicted. At every point difficulties press upon them: but they are not without way of escape.

Perplexed: not knowing which way to go, seeing no way open to them.

Utterly-perplexed: same word as “without-way-of-escape” in 2 Corinthians 1:8. Although there seemed to be no way open to them, they were not absolutely without a way. This is not contradicted, but confirmed, by 2 Corinthians 1:8. From their own point of view there was then no way of escape: but God made one.

Pursued: as in Romans 12:14.

Not deserted, or not left behind in peril: not abandoned to their pursuers. Cp. Hebrews 13:5.

Thrown down: as if in their flight.

Not perishing: a last triumphant denial. Notice the climax. At every step they are heavily pressed: but their path is not hedged up. They do not know which way to go: but they are not altogether without a way of escape. Enemies pursue them: but they are not left alone in their flight. They fall: but even then they survive.

2 Corinthians 4:10. While apparently continuing the description of his hardships Paul now explains their relation to the sufferings of Christ, and then states their divine purpose. Thus 2 Corinthians 4:10 a is parallel to 2 Corinthians 4:7 a, which is developed in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; and 2 Corinthians 4:10 b to 2 Corinthians 4:7 b.

Always: parallel to “in everything,” 2 Corinthians 4:8.

The putting to death: the whole process which ended in the death of Christ.

Carrying about etc.: explained in 2 Corinthians 4:11, “given up to death because of Jesus.” Paul’s hardships and deadly peril arose from the same cause as those which led Christ to the cross; and were therefore in some sense a repetition and reproduction of them. Cp. 2 Corinthians 1:5, “sufferings of Christ; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24. Thus in his own body Paul was carrying about wherever he went, so that many could see it, a picture of the putting to death of Jesus.

In order that etc.; lays stress on the divine purpose of these perils.

Also the life: the resurrection life, placed in conspicuous contrast to the death, of Christ.

Made manifest. Paul’s body, rescued by God’s power from deadly peril, was a conspicuous picture of Jesus alive after He had been put to death. For the miraculous power which raised Christ from the grave saved Paul from going down into it. Cp. 2 Corinthians 13:4. It was a picture of Christ’s death that it might be also a picture of His life; in order that thus the power (2 Corinthians 4:7) of God might be manifested.

2 Corinthians 4:11. Explains and justifies 2 Corinthians 4:10.

We who live: in contrast to Christ who died, and to the death into which day by day they are being given up. They were living victims of death.

Given-up: as in Romans 1:24.

Are given-up: each day death was there and then claiming them for its prey. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 8:36.

Because of Jesus: because they obeyed Him by proclaiming the Gospel. Since this moved the enemies to persecute, by them probably Paul looks upon himself as given-up. By taking steps to kill him, his enemies were practically handing him over to the king of terrors. But the purpose which follows reminds us that even the purposes of bad men were used by God to work out His own purposes. Cp. Acts 2:23.

That also the life etc.: emphatic repetition of 2 Corinthians 4:10 b, fixing our attention upon the divine purpose of these perils.

Mortal flesh: more vivid picture than “our body” in 2 Corinthians 4:10. That Paul’s body was flesh and blood, and thus by its very nature exposed to death, revealed the greatness of the power which preserved it safe even in the jaws of death. Notice the name Jesus four times in 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; as though Paul loved to repeat it.

2 Corinthians 4:12. Inference from 2 Corinthians 4:7-11.

Death: the abstract principle personified. In the plots and attacks of enemies Death was active, stretching out its hand to take them. And in their spared life, preserved by God’s power and spent in proclaiming the Gospel, the abstract principle of Life was at work among their hearers. The preachers daily felt themselves sinking into the grave: and their daily deliverance was daily working eternal life among their converts.

Review of 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. Although a bearer of treasure so great, Paul was in momentary peril of destruction. His wonderful preservation day by day was evidently wrought by divine power greater than the destructive forces around, even by the power which raised Jesus from the grave. He therefore cannot doubt that it was in order to manifest this power to men around, and thus make him wherever he went a visible picture of the resurrection of Christ, that he was permitted to be exposed to perils so tremendous. Thus even the perils of the apostles advanced, and were designed to advance, the great purpose of their lives. If in themselves death was at work, consuming their life, yet the very life they lived, unconsumed in fire, was working out eternal life for those around. How terrible a picture does this give of the greatness and constancy of their perils! Their spared life was an ever recurring miracle.

Just as the death of Christ, which at first seemed to disprove His Messiahship, gave occasion for the great proof of it, viz. His resurrection; so the apostles’ perils, which seemed to be inconsistent-with their claim to be ambassadors of God, really supported this claim by giving occasion for display of the preserving power of God.

2 Corinthians 4:13 to 2 Corinthians 5:10. Having explained the purpose and result of the perils around, Paul now gives the motives which enable him to continue his work in spite of them. He can do this because, led by the Spirit, he believes the promises of God. By faith he knows (2 Corinthians 4:14) that God will raise him from the dead in company with his converts; that (2 Corinthians 4:1-4) if his present body die a better one awaits him; that (2 Corinthians 4:6-8) death will but remove him to the presence of Christ; and that (2 Corinthians 4:10) from Him he will receive due reward for his work.

2 Corinthians 4:13. A new branch of the subject.

Spirit of faith: the Holy Spirit moving men to believe the promises of God, especially the promise of resurrection and of life with Christ. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:21; Ephesians 1:17. Although faith is the condition (Galatians 3:14) on which we receive the Spirit, yet, when received, by revealing to us (Romans 5:5) the love of God, He works in us a firmer and broader confidence in God. The assurance which enabled Paul to pursue his apostolic path, he felt to be a work of the Spirit.

The same Holy Spirit: who moved the Psalmist to write.

I believed: for which cause I spoke: word for word from Psalms 116:10, LXX. The original Hebrew is very difficult. It may perhaps be rendered “I have believed when I say, I have been much afflicted:” i.e. “I tell the story of my affliction with faith in God.” But the words quoted, though not an exact rendering, sum up accurately the sense of the whole Psalm. Like Paul, the writer has been in deadly peril; and has been delivered by God, in answer to his prayer. His deliverance has given him strong confidence in God, a confidence which finds expression in this Psalm.

Also we believe: as did the Psalmist.

Speak: viz. the Gospel which Paul, rescued from peril, preaches. The Psalmist’s faith, strengthened by peril and deliverance, moved him to song: Paul’s faith moves him to proclaim the Gospel, undeterred by the prospect of future perils. But it was the same faith, wrought by the same Spirit. And in each case faith found suitable utterance. As usual, the real reference is not so much to the words quoted as to their entire context.

The rest of 7 is an exposition of the faith which moved Paul to speak even amid deadly peril.

2 Corinthians 4:14-15. Knowing that etc.: parallel with “we believe,” giving the assurance which moves him to speak. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:58; Romans 5:3. By faith he knows. So 2 Corinthians 5:1. For he believes, on sufficient grounds, that which will come true. Such belief is knowledge.

Raised the Lord Jesus: the divine act on which rests Paul’s assurance that he will himself be raised. Cp. 1 Corinthians 6:14; Romans 8:11.

With Jesus. Since our resurrection at the last day is a result of Christ’s resurrection, wrought by the same power, in consequence of our present spiritual union with Christ, and is a part of that heritage which we share with Christ, Paul overlooks the separation in time and thinks of his own resurrection and Christ’s as one divine act. Cp. Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 2:5 f.

Will present: before the throne amid the splendors of that day. Cp. Colossians 1:22.

With you] Amid perils Paul is encouraged by knowing that in glory he will be accompanied by those whom he his now laboring to save. These words keep before us the thought of “at work with you” in 2 Corinthians 4:12. They are also a courteous recognition of his readers’ true piety. 2 Corinthians 4:15 develops with you in 2 Corinthians 4:14, thus leading the way to (8.

All things, or all these things: all Paul’s hardships and perils. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:18.

That grace having etc.; expounds for your sake. All these perils Paul endures in order that the pardoning favor of God may multiply, i.e. may shine on a larger number of persons; that thereby the favor of God may increase abundantly the thanksgiving which from this larger number will go up to God, and may thus manifest the grandeur of God. Cp.2 Corinthians 1:11; Romans 3:7.

2 Corinthians 4:16. We do not fail: as in 2 Corinthians 4:1. Paul there said that because of the grandeur of the Gospel he does not turn out badly in the day of trial as he would do if through craft he concealed it. He now says that because he knows that God will raise him from the dead, and knows that in the resurrection he will be accompanied by his readers and that his hardships are increasing the praises which will for ever go up to God, for this cause he does not lose heart in face of peril and forbear to proclaim the Gospel. For which cause thus corresponds inversely to “knowing that etc.” in 2 Corinthians 4:14; and is practically parallel to “for which cause etc.” in 2 Corinthians 4:13.

But if indeed etc.: contrast to losing heart in the conflict; and the secret of not doing so.

The outward man: the body, which alone is visible.

Is corrupting: wearing out and being destroyed by hardships.

Nevertheless: conspicuous contrast.

Inward man: same words in same sense in Romans 7:22. It is the invisible and nobler part of the man.

Is renewed; denotes in Colossians 3:10 gradual restoration to the primeval image of God lost by sin. But here since we have no reference to sin or imperfection, it denotes probably the healing day by day of the wounds inflicted upon Paul’s own spirit by personal peril and by anxiety for the churches. Of such wounds we find abundant marks on the pages of this epistle. They were gradually wearing out his body. But the daily application of healing balm kept them from injuring his real inner life. Consequently, he does not grow weary in his work.

2 Corinthians 4:17-17. Explains 2 Corinthians 4:16, by stating a truth which daily restores Paul’s inner man; and which teaches him to “exult in afflictions,” thus saving him from the injuries these might otherwise inflict on his spirit.

Works out for us glory: viz. his reward for preaching the Gospel, (cp. Daniel 12:3,) which could not have been his had he not exposed himself to the hardship and peril involved in his work. In this sense the glory was a result of the affliction, which compared with it was momentary and light. Or, in more forceful words, the momentary lightness itself works out etc.

Exceedingly, to excess: the manner and the extent of the working out of glory.

Eternal weight: in strong contrast to the momentary lightness. In a manner and to an extent passing all comparison Paul’s present hardship and peril are producing for him a glory which by its greatness and endlessness make them appear both light and momentary. He thus heaps word on word to convey a truth passing all human language or thought.

While we look etc.: Paul’s state of mind while writing 2 Corinthians 4:17. It explains, and nothing else can, his foregoing words. Only to those whose eyes are fixed on the unseen can hardships like his appear momentary and light.

Looking: more fully looking with a purpose, especially with a view to avoid, imitate, or obtain. Same word in Romans 16:17; Philippians 3:17; Philippians 2:4. We fix our eyes on things beyond mortal vision and make them the objects of our pursuits. For this, 2 Corinthians 4:18 b gives a good reason. 2 Corinthians 4:17 accounts for the daily inward renewing by pointing to the coming glory: 2 Corinthians 4:18 notes the subjective condition (which Paul proves to be reasonable) of the present effect of this coming glory.

2 Corinthians 5:1. Supports the reason just given and its practical influence on Paul, by declaring that in “the things not seen” he has a share and that he knows this. He thus supports the argument of 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 by proving that future glory is not dependent on rescue from bodily death.

For we know: words of confidence, calling attention to the effect of this knowledge on Paul.

Tent or booth: not else in the New Testament; but akin to the word used in Matthew 17:4; Luke 16:9; Acts 7:43-44; Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:2-3; Hebrews 9:6; Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:21; and to another in Acts 7:46; 2 Peter 1:13 f: used in classic Greek only as a metaphor for the body of men or animals. Same word in Wisdom of Solomon 9:15 : “A corruptible body weighs down the soul; and the earthen tent burdens the much-thinking mind.”

Our earthly house of the tent: the body belonging to the present world, looked upon as fragile and easily taken down, by death. This suggests, but hardly proves, that Paul was in doubt whether he would survive the coming of Christ.

Building: a permanent abode, in contrast to the tent.

Building from God: the resurrection body. It is from God, as being an immediate outworking of His miraculous power.

Not made with hands: in contrast to other buildings. It is parallel to from God, keeping before us the supernatural origin of the resurrection body.

Eternal: in contrast to be taken down.

In the heavens: secure place in which the saved dead have, though they do not yet wear, the resurrection body. Cp. Philippians 4:20; 1 Peter 1:4. It is practically in heaven: for the power which will raise it is there. When Christ appears from heaven we shall receive our permanent bodily abode. Hence it is also “our dwelling place from heaven,” 2 Corinthians 5:2. Consequently, this building is completely beyond reach of the uncertainties of earth.

2 Corinthians 5:2-4. Appeal to present yearnings in proof that there is a resurrection body.

Even in this tent: before it is taken down.

Groan: as in Romans 8:22 f; where we have the same argument. The burdens of the present life force from us a cry.

Longing to clothe ourselves: the cause and meaning of the cry.

Our dwelling-place etc.: the risen body which we shall receive when Christ returns from heaven to earth.

To clothe: new figure, viz. the risen body looked upon now as a garment.

Put-on-as-overclothing, or overclothe-ourselves: i.e. without taking off our present mortal garment, without passing through death. In other words, Paul longed to survive, in his present body, the coming of Christ. In that case there would be (1 Corinthians 15:51) change, but no disrobing. 2 Corinthians 5:3 gives a supposition necessarily implied in this yearning for a heavenly body.

We shall be found: by Christ at His coming, when we shall stand before Him.

Clothed: in bodies, not naked disembodied spirits. This conditional clause uncovers the argumentative point of 2 Corinthians 5:2 in proof of 2 Corinthians 5:1. See below. Perhaps it is also a reference to some of those who denied the resurrection, suggesting how inconsistent is such denial with the Christian’s aspirations. 2 Corinthians 5:4 supports 2 Corinthians 5:3, which is really a restatement of 2 Corinthians 5:1, by restating more fully the argument of 2 Corinthians 5:2.

For even we who are in the tent: parallel with for even in this tent.

Even we who are: in contrast to we shall be found. The perils and hardships of life were a burden forcing from them a cry for deliverance.

Inasmuch as we do not wish etc.; explains this cry by pointing back (2 Corinthians 5:2) to the longing, intensified by present adversity, which prompted it.

Swallowed up: caused to vanish completely out of sight, as in 1 Corinthians 15:54. Paul did not wish to lay aside his mortal raiment, i.e.

to die, but without dying to receive his immortal body. In that case the mortal body would be swallowed up by the endless resurrection life.

Argument of 2 Corinthians 5:2-4. By Christians now death is looked upon without terrible recoil, as being the only entrance into Life. We bow to the inevitable. But in the early Christians the possibility of surviving the coming of Christ woke up with new intensity man’s natural love of life, and made death seem very dark. They therefore longed eagerly for Christ’s return, hoping thus to clothe themselves with immortal raiment without laying aside their mortal bodies. This yearning for an immortal body, Paul felt to be divinely implanted; (for it was strong just so far as he was full of the Holy Spirit,) and therefore not doomed to disappointment. But the possibility of death was to Paul too real to be ignored. Therefore, in view of it, his yearning for an immortal body assured him that if his present body be removed by death a heavenly body awaits him. For, otherwise, he will stand before Christ as a naked spirit, in utter contradiction to yearnings which he felt to be divine, and of whose realization he had a divine pledge. In other words, his instinctive clinging to his present body was to him a divine intimation that when Christ comes we shall not be naked spirits, but spirits clothed in bodies; and was, therefore, a proof that if our present body be removed by death a heavenly and eternal body awaits us. Thus a purely human instinct, not weakened but intensified by Christianity, and sanctified by the felt presence of the Holy Spirit, is seen to be a prophecy of God’s purpose concerning us. Similar argument in Romans 8:23.

2 Corinthians 5:5. A statement of what is the real force of the foregoing argument.

Wrought in us, or, wrought us out: same word in 2 Corinthians 4:17. They were material in which God had worked out results.

For this very thing: the aim of this divine working, viz. either the heavenly clothing or Paul’s yearning for it. Probably the latter: for the yearning itself is the basis of the argument. If so, this very thing, viz. this yearning for an immortal body, is both a result, and the aim, of God’s working in Paul.

Wrought in us denotes a result; for this very thing, the aim. Who has given etc.: a fact which proves the foregoing statement. Earnest of the Spirit: as in 2 Corinthians 1:22. Practically the same as “the firstfruit of the Spirit” in the similar argument of Romans 8:23.

The Holy Spirit in Paul’s heart was a pledge that the promise he had believed would be fulfilled; and was thus an earnest of the coming inheritance. Cp. Ephesians 1:14. Since Paul’s clinging to his present body while yearning for a better is introduced merely in proof that if he die there awaits him a body from heaven, the words this very thing refer probably only to the yearning for the heavenly body, without reference to his reluctance to die. For he could not say that this reluctance was God’s work, nor that the Spirit was a pledge that he should not die. These verses warn us to distinguish carefully between a divinely breathed yearning and the purely human longing which often accompanies it. The latter is frequently disappointed, as Paul’s was; the former never.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Practical effect upon Paul of the assurance of 2 Corinthians 4:14, which was developed and justified in 2 Corinthians 4:16 to 2 Corinthians 5:5; and therefore parallel with “for which cause we do not fail” in 2 Corinthians 4:16.

Always; corresponds with “in everything… always… every” in 2 Corinthians 4:8; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11.

And knowing: also a result of the foregoing argument. This knowledge prompts and justifies the courage.

Away from home; points to our other home, from which we are absent so long as our home is in the body. To justify this mention of another home, 2 Corinthians 5:7 breaks off the foregoing sentence. It is completed, in a slightly changed form, in 2 Corinthians 5:8. Cp. Romans 5:12. As we pursue our path the objects before our eyes are those seen only by faith: the keynote (cp. 2 Corinthians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 4:18) of 2 Corinthians 4:13 to 2 Corinthians 5:10.

Not by appearance] The objects which direct our steps do not yet appear. We walk amid eternal realities, now unseen, but known through the word we have believed. Chief among these is our home in the presence of Christ. Hence we speak of a home unseen by mortal eye. Same thought in same connection in Romans 8:24.

But we are of good courage: although our home is as yet seen only by faith.

Well-pleased: not only brave in presence of death, but content to die.

Rather: in preference to remaining in the body. Same thought in Philippians 1:23.

To go away from home from the body: to die before Christ’s coming, and thus to be for a time without a body. They who survive His coming will at once receive the body “from heaven” by undergoing instant change.

To go home; implies that dead believers go at once, even while disembodied, into the presence of Christ. Paul’s own clinging to his present body, even while looking for a better, assures him that even if he die this better body awaits him. This implies, since death rends the only veil which separates the believer from Christ, viz. his mortal life that even while waiting for the resurrection body his spirit will be with Christ. And, therefore, he is willing to die; and is brave in face of deadly peril. Notice that Paul’s sure confidence that death will take him at once to Christ rests upon his assurance that a glorified body awaits him at the coming of Christ. This agrees with 1 Corinthians 15, where future happiness is assumed to be conditional on resurrection of the body.

These verses shed light on a matter of which the Bible says little, the state of the unsaved between death and resurrection. For Paul evidently thinks of no alternative except to be at home in the body and at home with the Lord. Therefore departed believers are with Christ; and, if so, not unconscious: for the unconscious are practically nowhere. Their nearness to Christ is such that compared with it their present spiritual union with Him is absence. And, although they have not yet entered their “eternal house” and put on their heavenly clothing, yet in the presence of Christ they are at home. And their eternal intercourse with Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:17) has begun. Same teaching in similar circumstances in Philippians 1:20 ff. Cp. Luke 23:43; Luke 16:23.

2 Corinthians 5:9. Further result of Paul’s joyful confidence that there is a life beyond death.

We make-it-a-point-of-honour: same word in Romans 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:11. This is the only ambition worthy of Christians.

Whether at home: in the body.

Away from home: from the body. That these words have the same reference, the alternative implies. That they refer to the body, is suggested by well-pleasing to Him: for our conduct on earth is our first matter of present solicitude.

Well-pleasing to Him: at the judgment day (2 Corinthians 5:10) and in reference to actions done on earth. Paul was emulous, whether the coming of Christ find him in the body or away from it, to be approved by Him. To him, life and death are, in agreement with the scope of the whole section, of secondary importance; the approval of Christ is all-important. That the former is of secondary importance, results (for which cause) from the confidence expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:8. That the latter is all-important, will be proved in 2 Corinthians 5:10.

2 Corinthians 5:10. All of us: even Christians.

Must needs: marks the inevitable.

Be-made-manifest: 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:11; see Romans 1:19 : our inmost nature and most secret actions will be set before the eyes of all.

Judgment-seat of Christ: practically the same as “of God” in Romans 14:10. For the Father “has given the whole judgment to the Son,” John 5:22.

That each one etc.: definite purpose for which our lives and characters will then be brought to light.

May obtain: to be his abiding possession. It is a graphic picture of exact retribution. Each man will receive back, by seeing their true nature and results, his own past actions to be themselves his eternal glory or shame. So Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:25. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 2:19 f.

Through the body: as the channel by which purposes pass into actions.

In view of etc.: action the measure of recompense. [Cp. Romans 8:18.]

Good or bad. To both kinds of actions this principle will be applied, in contrast to human tribunals which deal only with crime; as well as to all kinds of persons.

That both saved and lost will receive recompense proportionate to the good and bad actions of each, is quite consistent with forgiveness of sins by God’s undeserved favor. Entrance into eternal life is God’s free gift to all who believe and who abide in faith. But the degree of our glory will be measured by the faithfulness of our service; and the punishment of the lost, by their sins. Moreover, a man’s good actions are God’s work in him by the Holy Spirit. And unless we yield to the Spirit, and thus bear the fruit of the Spirit, we cannot retain our faith. Consequently, without good works we cannot enter heaven. The good actions of the lost, which we need not deny, will lessen their punishment: the sins of the saved, before or after conversion, will lessen their reward. Thus, although salvation is entirely the free gift of God, each man will receive an exact recompense for his entire conduct. Cp. Romans 2:5 f; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 3:13 f. A remembrance of this exact recompense will make us comparatively indifferent about life or death, and emulous so to act as to please our Judge.

SECTION 7 accounts for the perils amid which Paul proclaims the Gospel, 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; and explains the motives which raise him above them, 2 Corinthians 4:13 to 2 Corinthians 5:10. By the design of God the gospel treasure is entrusted to fragile vessels, that the preservation of the vessels may be a manifestation of the power of God. The apostles are thus a moving picture of Him who gave up Himself to death for the world’s salvation, and who was rescued from the hand of death by the power of God. He braves these perils simply because, like the Psalmist in similar circumstances, he believes the word of God. He knows that God will raise him from the dead, and that by exposing himself to these dangers he is increasing the song of praise which will go up to God for ever. And this assurance restores his wearied spirit. His very clinging to life, while yearning for immortality, assures him that if his body perish a nobler body awaits him. And, if so, separation from the body must be immediate entrance into the presence of Christ. His one thought is, not about life or death, but to stand the approval of that Judge before whom all must soon stand, and in the light of whose appearing the inmost secrets of the present life will be made visible to all.

This section confirms the teaching of 1 Corinthians 15:51 f and 1 Thessalonians 4:15 touching Paul’s expectation about the second coming of Christ. That he speaks of resurrection from the dead, does not imply an expectation that His coming will be long delayed. For every day death threatened him. But fear of it was removed by joyful confidence that it would but take him to the presence of Christ. Whereas the alternative mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:9, and perhaps the word “if” in 2 Corinthians 5:1, suggest that he was not sure that he would die.

Verses 11-21


Knowing then the fear of the Lord we persuade men, but to God we have been made manifest. And I hope also in your consciences to be made manifest. Not again are we recommending ourselves to you, but I write this giving occasion to you for matter of exultation on our behalf, that you may have it in view of those who exult in appearance and not in heart. For both if we have gone out of our mind, it is for God; and if we have sound sense, it is for you. For the love of Christ holds us fast, we having judged this, that One died on behalf of all, therefore all died, and on behalf of all He died in order that they who live may no longer live for themselves but for Him who on their behalf died and rose. So then we henceforth know no one according to flesh. If even we have known Christ according to flesh, nevertheless now no longer do we know men thus. So that if any one be in Christ he is a new creature: the old things have gone by; behold they have become new. And all things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave to us the ministry of the reconciliation. Because that God was, in Christ, reconciling to Himself the world; seeing that He is not reckoning to them their trespasses and has put in us the word of the reconciliation. On behalf of Christ then we are ambassadors, as though God were exhorting through us: we beg, on behalf of Christ, Be reconciled to God. Him who knew no sin, on our behalf He made to be sin, that we may become righteousness of God in Him. And working together with Him we also exhort that not in vain you accept the grace of God. For He says, “At an acceptable season I have listened to thee: and in a day of salvation I have helped thee.” (Isaiah 49:8.) Behold now is the well-accepted season, behold now is the day of salvation.

And this we do, in nothing causing stumbling, that the ministry be not blamed: but in everything recommending ourselves as God’s ministers, in much endurance, in afflictions, in necessities, in positions of helplessness, in beatings, in prisons, in tumults, in toils, in watchings, in fastings; in purity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love without hypocrisy, in the word of truth, in the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, with glory and dishonour, with bad report and good report; as deceivers and true, as unknown and becoming well-known, as dying and behold we live, as being chastised and not being put to death, as being made sorrowful but ever rejoicing, as poor but enriching many, as having nothing and possessing all things.

In Section 7 Paul explained why a ministry so glorious was surrounded by constant and deadly peril, viz. because this peril gave opportunity for a constant manifestation of divine power; and stated the motive which led him forward even in face of such peril, viz. his belief of God’s word that He will raise the dead, that death leads at once to the presence of Christ, and that in the Day of Judgment due recompense will be given. Having thus told us the power which saves him from fear of death he now tells us the motive of his efforts to save men, viz. the love of Christ who died for them and his own divine commission to be an ambassador for Christ; and concludes his exposition, begun in Section 4, of the apostolic ministry, its credentials, its grandeur, its perils, its hopes, and its recompense, by a graphic picture of the circumstances and the spirit in which he discharges it.

2 Corinthians 5:11. Then: in view of the judgment-seat of Christ.

Fear of the Lord: cp. Romans 3:18. Reverent fear of Christ is a state of mind familiar to Paul. Cp. “know sin,” 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 7:7; “know grief,” Isaiah 53:3.

Persuade men: to “be reconciled to God,” 2 Corinthians 5:20. This was his chief work. The persuasion denied in the question of Galatians 1:10 had a different motive, as is implied in the following words. This persuading of men was prompted by remembrance of the great assize and by desire to please the Judge. But, although men are the direct objects of his persuasion, yet in persuading them he stands before the eye of God.

Manifest: as in 2 Corinthians 5:10.

Made-manifest; more vivid than “manifest,” picturing the act of God setting us permanently under His own eye.

And I hope etc.; reminds us that Section 4-8 were written in self-defence. [There is nothing to demand the rendering (A.V. and R.V.) “that we are made manifest.” For the aorist after ελπιζω always refers in the N.T. to something future. And the perfect tense (cp. 1 Timothy 6:17) merely adds to the aorist the idea of permanent results. Paul does not say whether the manifestation he hopes for is present or future. But the word hope suggests the latter.]

Your consciences: the faculty which contemplates a man’s inner life. See under Romans 2:15. Paul hopes that through his labors spiritual results have been attained in his readers, results which will appear to them as they contemplate their own inner life. Cp. 2 Corinthians 4:2. Such results will thus be a proof, clearly visible to the eye of conscience, of Paul’s divine commission. These words recall the argument of 2 Corinthians 3:2 f.

Paul’s mention of the judgment-seat reminds him that to the eye of God the real worth of his apostolic service lies open. And he hopes that it will lie permanently open also in the heart of hearts of those among whom he has labored. He thus suitably introduces a further exposition of the motives of his work.

2 Corinthians 5:12. Like 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 5:11 b might seem to be self-recommendation. With delicate tact Paul says that he is only giving his readers an argument with which they may defend him; thus implying that they are not his opponents, but are ready to defend him.

Again recommending ourselves: as in 2 Corinthians 3:1. The repetition suggests that these were words of his opponents.

Occasion: or “starting point,” as in Romans 7:8.

Giving you etc.: while speaking about being made manifest in their consciences, Paul was really putting them on a track towards a matter of exultation in his favor which they might remember and use against his opponents. These last he designates as exulting in appearance (or in face) and not in heart. What our face is, we seem to be: what our heart is, we are. For the heart is the inmost center of our real life.

2 Corinthians 5:13. Paul’s real motives, which are a matter of exultation for his readers.

Gone-out-of-our-mind: become mad. These strange words can be accounted for only as being actually spoken by his enemies. The relatives of Christ said (Mark 3:21) the same of Him. We can well conceive that Paul’s ecstatic visions, (2 Corinthians 12:2 ff,) his transcendental teaching, which to many would seem absurd, his reckless daring in face of peril, and his complete rejection of all the motives which rule common men, would lead some to say and even to believe that he was not in full possession of his senses. The same has been said in all ages about similar men.

For God: to work out His purposes.

Of sound mind: exact opposite of madness. Same contrast in Mark 5:15; Acts 26:25.

For you: to do you good. “If, as our enemies say, we are mad, we have become so in order to serve God and do His work. And, therefore, our very madness claims respect. If we are men of sound sense we use our sense, not, as most others do, to enrich ourselves, but to do you good.” Paul thus appeals to his readers’ observation of his conduct. They knew that where human prudence might condemn his recklessness his purpose was to serve God; and that whatever mental power he possessed was used for the good of others.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15. The motive of this unsparing devotion to God and to the interests of his readers. “The love of Christ towards men, revealed in His death for them, holds us so fast that we cannot forbear to devote ourselves to the service of God, even to an extent which some call madness, and to use all our powers for your good.”

Having judged this: practically the same as “reckon” in Romans 6:11. Since this judgment rests solely on the word of God, it is an expression of faith. And only so far as it is firm and broad do we feel the binding influence of the love of Christ.

One on behalf of all: conspicuous contrast. A name written on every heart, it was needless to mention. To this statement of the purpose of the death of Christ Paul gives emphasis by the change from us to all, thus directing attention to a general truth. But, since he does not say “all men,” we cannot appeal to this verse in proof that He died for all men. This, Paul asserts elsewhere in plainest terms. See notes under Romans 5:18-19. Therefore, although the compass of this verse is indefinite, each one may place himself within it, and pronounce this judgment about himself.

Therefore all died: Paul’s inference from one died on behalf of all. Virtually they for whom He died themselves died in His death. For the full result of His death belongs to them. This inference rests upon the broad truth that Christ died that we may be so united to Him as to share all that He has and is. Cp. Romans 6:3. Now Christ by His death escaped completely from the burden and curse of sin. Paul reckons therefore that the former life of sin of those for whom Christ died has come to an end on His cross, and that, like Him, they too are dead to sin. See Romans 6:10 f. Objectively and virtually they died to sin when Christ died: they died subjectively and actually only when and so far as in faith they pronounced touching themselves the judgment of this verse, i.e. when they reckoned themselves to be dead to sin. Paul says that all died, because the subjective and actual death to sin of those who dare pronounce this judgment is a direct outworking and communication of the objective and historic death of Christ and of our divinely ordained union with His death.

The rest of 2 Corinthians 5:15 is a further inference, expounding one on behalf of all.

Who live: not needful to complete the sentence, but thrust in conspicuously to tell us that though their old life of sin has ceased they are not lifeless but are living a new resurrection life.

No longer for themselves; implies that apart from the death of Christ self is the aim of life to all men; and that therefore all men need a radical change.

Who on their behalf etc.: emphatic repetition of the chief idea of 2 Corinthians 5:15. Christ died in order that we may live a life in which every thought and purpose and effort point to Him, and all our powers and opportunities are used to please and exalt Him and to do His work. Thus Christ will be, what self once was, the one aim of life.

And rose: i.e. on our behalf. It is expounded in Romans 4:25.

He died for all, i.e. to reconcile their salvation with (Romans 3:26) the justice of God: He rose for all, i.e. to give them ground for the faith which saves. At the beginning of the sentence His death only is mentioned, to confine our attention to the costliness of the means used to secure our devotion to Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 are a close parallel to Romans 6:10-11. In each passage the historic fact of Christ’s death and His abiding devotion to the Father produce their counterparts in us. In each the counterpart is produced by the mental reckoning or judgment of faith.

This judgment Paul and his colleagues had pronounced. They knew that they were among the all for whom Christ died. They therefore ventured to believe that in His death their own former life of sin and self had died, and was therefore a thing of the past. They knew that He died in order that they might live a life of absolute devotion to Him. And, as they contemplated the infinite cost of the means used to secure their devotion, and the love thus manifested, they felt the power of that love; and felt themselves compelled to serve, with a self-abnegation which some called madness, the God who gave His Son to die for them, and to toil for those He died to save.

That to secure our devotion to Himself Christ must needs die, proves how completely selfishness is inwoven into human nature; and proves the earnestness of His purpose to destroy it. The need of so costly a means can be explained only on the principle that surrender to selfishness is a punishment of sin, and that the punishment cannot be remitted without a corresponding and adequate manifestation of divine justice. If so, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 imply, and thus support the great foundation doctrine of Romans 3:24-26. Moreover, that our life of devotion to Christ is stated here to be an aim of his death, implies that only in proportion as we thus live do we and shall we obtain the blessings which result from His death.

2 Corinthians 5:16. Result of Paul’s judgment that Christ died that men may live a life altogether new.

We: emphatic. Paul returns now, after the foregoing general statement, to himself and his colleagues who have pronounced the judgment of 2 Corinthians 5:14 and have felt the constraining power of the love of Christ.

Henceforth: from the time of this judgment, which was an era in their lives, an era ever present to their thought.

According to flesh; may refer either to the persons known, i.e. to the appearance and circumstances of their bodily life, as in 2 Corinthians 11:18; Philippians 3:4; or to those who know them with a knowledge determined and limited by their bodily life, as in 2 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:26. These senses coalesce here. For they who look at others from the point of view of their own bodily life, with its needs, desires, and pleasures, see them only as men of flesh and blood like themselves. But to Paul the former life has so completely ceased that to him men around are no longer judged of thus. He sees them not as rich or poor, Jews or Gentiles, enemies or friends, but as men for whom Christ died.

If even we have known etc.: a conspicuous contrast to the foregoing, from Paul’s own past life.

Known Christ etc.: an extreme case of knowing men according to flesh. At one time Paul was so accustomed to look upon men according to bodily appearance and surroundings that even upon Christ he looked thus: he thought of Him as a mere Jew from Nazareth, a feeble man of flesh and blood. This does not imply that he had actually seen Christ. For, while persecuting Christians, Christ was present to his thought, but only as a mere man whose teaching he could crush out. And all the disciples knew Christ first as a man; till through the veil of flesh they saw His real dignity.

Nevertheless: in spite of having gone so far in knowing men according to flesh as to know even Christ thus.

Now no longer: emphatic note of change.

We know: without saying whom they know. Paul cannot refer to his no longer knowing Christ (so A.V. and R.V.) according to flesh. Surely this would not need emphatic and contrasted assertion. He simply repeats the general assertion which is the chief matter of this verse. In consequence of Paul’s judgment about the death of Christ he no longer looks upon men according to their appearance in flesh and blood. Yet he admits that he did so once, even in the case of Christ. But so completely is he changed that, in spite of this aggravated case in his past life, he no longer knows men according to flesh.

2 Corinthians 5:17. A logical result, or inference, from 2 Corinthians 5:16. Nothing less than a new creation, and a passing away of old surroundings, is implied in the new light in which we now see our fellow-men.

In Christ: see under Romans 6:11. Christ is Himself the life-giving element in which His people are and live and think and act.

New creature, or creation: Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:24. To those who are in Christ, the power of the Creator has wrought a change analogous to the creation of Adam out of dust of the earth.

The old things: everything around and within us. Through our union with Christ, and so far as we live in spiritual contact with Him, the world in which we live, and we ourselves are altogether changed. For to us the world has lost its power to allure and terrify and control. The old multifarious influence which our surroundings once exercised over us, an influence which ruled our entire life, has altogether passed away. Consequently, the old things, in the widest sense possible, have gone by.

Behold: as if a sudden discovery. The old things have gone by; but not in every sense. For they are still here, but completely changed. The world with its men and things is still around us: but in its influence upon us it is become entirely new. Our fellowmen are objects now for Christian effort: wealth is but an instrument with which to serve God: and the world is a school for our spiritual education, a place in which we may do God’s work, and a wisely chosen path to heaven. Thus inward contact with Christ changes completely our entire surroundings in their aspect, and in their influence upon us. This change is therefore a measure of our spiritual life. And it is a logical result of our deeper knowledge of our fellow-men, a knowledge no longer determined by their outward appearance. We see them as they really are; powerless to injure us, in peril of eternal death, but within reach of the salvation which God has bidden us proclaim. All this is a result of the power of Christ’s love over those who have comprehended the purpose of His death. And it explains (2 Corinthians 5:17) Paul’s unreserved devotion to God’s work and to the welfare of men.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19. After explaining the motives stated in 2 Corinthians 5:13, by tracing them to their source in the death and love of Christ, Paul now traces them further, as his wont is, to their source in God.

All things: the complete change wrought through the death of Christ. That this change has its origin in God, and how He wrought it, the rest of 2 Corinthians 5:18 proves and explains.

Reconciled to Himself: see under Romans 5:1. By means of the cross and word of Christ, God has removed the hostility between Himself and us, so that there is now “peace with God through Christ.”

Us: true of all believers; but Paul thinks specially of himself and colleagues, as the following words show.

The ministry of the reconciliation: same as “the ministry of righteousness, of the Spirit,” in 2 Corinthians 3:8 f. The whole difference between Saul of Tarsus and the character described in 2 Corinthians 5:14 ff results from two facts, viz. that God has reconciled an enemy and has given him the office of conveying to others the reconciliation he has received. Consequently the whole change just described is from God.

Through Christ: as in Romans 5:1. While rising from the Son to the Father Paul keeps the Son still before us.

2 Corinthians 5:19. Lends importance to the foregoing facts in the life of Paul, by tracing them to their source and cause in a world-embracing purpose of God. [The word ως, which cannot here be reproduced in English, represents this fact in a subjective aspect, i.e. as contemplated in its bearings by the mind of Paul.]

Reconciling the world: not “reconciled,” which would not be true. Paul tells us the work in which God was engaged when He gave Christ to die. Similarly, in Romans 2:4, God “is leading” all men “to repentance.”

For although, as this verse implies, reconciliation is entirely God’s work, its accomplishment depends entirely upon each man’s acceptance of it. [The absence of the article before world leaves us to contemplate the abstract significance of this word. It was a world that God was reconciling to Himself.]

In Christ: as in Romans 3:24. It keeps before us “through Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:18.

Was; refers to the past event of Christ’s death. The emphatic words of this clause are God and world; the former keeping before us “from God” in 2 Corinthians 5:18, and the latter revealing the wide bearing of God’s action.

Seeing that etc.: double proof of the foregoing. [A similar construction in 2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 3:14.]

Not reckoning trespasses: forgiving them, as in Romans 4:8.

To them: a general expression. That it refers only to believers, to whom alone God forgives sin, Paul leaves his readers to observe. That through the death of Christ God forgives men’s sins, a fact of constant occurrence, is proof that in giving Christ to die God was at work making peace between Himself and mankind.

And has put etc.: another proof of the same, viz. that God has bid Paul proclaim peace for all who believe. Notice that he assumes that the forgiveness which already from time to time takes place and which he is commissioned to proclaim is designed for all men. Else it would not be proof that in Christ God was reconciling the world. See note, Romans 5:19.

The word of the reconciliation: like “word of the cross” in 1 Corinthians 1:18: the word announcing reconciliation by faith. To proclaim this word is “the ministry of the reconciliation,” 2 Corinthians 5:18. Notice the importance with which Paul invests these two facts by appealing to them twice in argument, once to prove that the change in himself was wrought by God, and then to prove the world-embracing purpose of this divine activity. As usual, the second statement is fuller than the first. “Us” is widened into world: and “ministry of reconciliation” is explained by its great instrument, the word of the reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:20. Inference from 2 Corinthians 5:19, showing its bearing on Paul’s work. Since he has received “the word of reconciliation,” he is an ambassador: since the reconciliation is “in Christ,” his embassy is on behalf of Christ.

We are ambassadors: Ephesians 6:20 : messengers sent formally by a king, especially to make peace. Very appropriate to apostles sent formally and personally by Christ: John 17:18; John 20:21; Acts 26:17, Galatians 1:1.

On behalf of Christ: to do the work in which He is so deeply interested.

As though God etc.: another view of the same embassy.

God exhorting through us. The earnest entreaty of an ambassador is ever received as the earnest entreaty of the king he represents. [ως, as in 2 Corinthians 5:19. We must remember that in the earnest pleading of Paul God Himself is pleading.]

On behalf of Christ: emphatic repetition.

We beg; develops the word exhort with pathetic emphasis. For to beg is usually a mark of the earnestness of an inferior. Cp. Acts 21:39; Acts 26:3.

Be reconciled to God: accept by faith the offered reconciliation. We cannot reconcile ourselves: this is God’s work. But this exhortation implies that it rests with us whether we are reconciled. Notice the double parallel in this verse, keeping before us the relation of Paul’s ministry to Christ and to God. He is an ambassador, sent to do Christ’s business: his earnest voice is therefore the voice of God, who gave Christ to die and sent Paul to proclaim reconciliation through Christ. The ambassador almost prostrates himself before those to whom he is sent and begs them to accept peace. And in this self-humiliation he is doing Christ’s work, and seeking to lead men to peace with God. To reject such an embassy, is to set at nought the mission of Christ, the earnest entreaty of God, and the tremendous power of Him with whom the unsaved are at war.

2 Corinthians 5:21. Paul’s comment on his own entreaty, “Be reconciled to God”; giving a strong reason for yielding to it. As in 2 Corinthians 5:19, he goes back to the great historic fact on which our reconciliation rests, and to its meaning and purpose.

Him who knew etc.: with emphatic prominence.

Knew no sin: as in Romans 7:7. He had not the acquaintance with sin which comes from committing sin.

On our behalf: in emphatic prominence: see under Romans 5:6.

Made to be sin: in some sense, an impersonation and manifestation of sin. Cp. Galatians 3:13. Practically the same as, but stronger than, “made to be a sinner.” By laying upon Christ the punishment of our sin, God made Him to be a visible embodiment of the deadly and far-reaching power of sin. Through God’s mysterious action, we now learn what sin is by looking at the Sinless One. Cp. Romans 5:19 : “through one man’s sin, the many were constituted sinners” inasmuch as they suffer the threatened punishment of his sin. But the cases differ in that the many received in themselves the moral and spiritual effects of the one man’s sin; whereas, even while revealing in His own sufferings the awful nature of sin, Christ remained unstained by sin. Augustine* (*In Sermons 134, 155. ) and others expound sin to be “sin-offering. This use of the word is found in the Hebrew text of Leviticus 6:25 : “this is the law of the sin… the sin shall be slaughtered before Jehovah”; Leviticus 6:30, “every sin whose blood shall be brought etc.” But it is not found in the LXX. or in the New Testament; is in no way suggested here; and is forbidden by the contrast of sin and righteousness. Rather, the sacrificial use of the word is explained by, and is an anticipation of, this verse. The sacrificed animals were embodiments of sin.

That we may become etc.: expounds on our behalf. This purpose is accomplished as each one receives “the righteousness which is from God by faith,” Philippians 3:9.

Righteousness of God: see under Romans 1:17. By accepting us as righteous, God makes us an embodiment of divinely-given righteousness. By looking at us men learn what it is to enjoy the approval of the great Judge.

In Him: as in 2 Corinthians 5:19. In virtue of Christ’s death, and by spiritual contact with Him, we have the righteousness which God gives.

This verse asserts in plainest language that God gave Christ to die in our stead. For the Sinless One was put so completely in the sinner’s place and thereby delivered us so completely from our position as sinners that He is said to have been made sin in order that we who have no righteousness of our own may become an impersonation of righteousness. So Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become on our behalf a curse.” Cp. Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24; John 1:29. All this is explained in Romans 3:26. For if Christ died in order to make our justification consistent with the justice of God, and thus possible, his death was the price of our forgiveness. And, since death is the threatened punishment of sin, it may be correctly said that God laid on Christ our punishment that we may escape from it. In this sense He died, by God’s ordinance, in our stead.

2 Corinthians 6:1. After saying what God has done for man’s salvation, Paul adds what he and his colleagues are doing for the same object.

Working together with Him: not with Christ, but with Him who gave Christ to be sin for us. So 1 Corinthians 3:9. For in 2 Corinthians 5:18 ff we read of the activity of the Father rather than of the Son. Paul works with God by urging men to accept, and make good use of, the favor of God.

Accept the grace of God: claim by faith the various spiritual benefits which God in undeserved favor offers us.

Not in vain, or not for an empty thing: Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16: put prominently forward as the special matter of Paul’s exhortation. If we fail to put to practical use in the details of life the spiritual benefits received by the favor of God, even His favor becomes to us a useless and empty thing. An unread Bible, a wasted Sunday, and such knowledge of the truth as does not mold our life, are the grace of God received in vain. Paul bids his readers so to lay hold of the grace of God that it shall not be in vain. He thus sums up the whole matter of his teaching to believers.

2 Corinthians 6:2. A quotation of Isaiah 49:8, word for word from the LXX., supporting the exhortation of 2 Corinthians 6:1. The prophet says, “Thus says Jehovah, in a time of favour I have heard thee: and in a day of salvation I have helped thee”; and thus proclaims a definite time coming when God will listen with favor to His people and save them. His words are evidently fulfilled in the Gospel. The change from “time of favour” to acceptable season, is unimportant. And the Gospel was announced to the world at a time which God thought fit to accept for this purpose. Cp. Isaiah 59:2, quoted in Luke 4:19.

Behold now etc.: Paul’s comment on the words of Isaiah.

Well-accepted: stronger than acceptable. Paul supports his exhortation in 2 Corinthians 6:1 by reminding his readers that they lived in a time looked forward to by the ancient prophets with bright expectation. The quotation was prompted by a consciousness of the great privilege of living in gospel days, in that time which from the beginning of the world God chose for His great salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:3-10. Graphic description of the manner and circumstances in which Paul and his companions give the exhortation of 2 Corinthians 6:1. It concludes his long exposition and defence, occupying Sections 4-8, of his ministry.

2 Corinthians 6:3-4 a. No cause of stumbling: Romans 9:32; 1 Corinthians 8:9: anything which might overthrow a man’s faith.

In nothing: in no part of his work and life so acting as to cause others to fall. For an example, see 1 Corinthians 9:12.

The ministry: the important office held by Paul and his companions. See under Romans 12:7. He felt that the influence of Christianity upon the world depended very much upon the collective impression made by its prominent advocates; and that this impression would be determined in no small measure by his own personal conduct. He was therefore careful so to act in everything as to cause no spiritual injury to any one, lest such injury might lessen the collective influence of the leaders of the church.

But in everything: positive counterpart of in nothing giving etc. In everything they so act as to claim respect; remembering that they are God’s ministers.

2 Corinthians 6:4-5. In much endurance: see under Romans 2:7 : amid much hardship they pursue their course, and thus claim respect.

In afflictions etc.: nine points, describing the variety of these hardships.

Helplessness: as in 2 Corinthians 4:8.

Necessities: as in 1 Corinthians 7:26.

Beatings, prisons, tumults: three specific cases all coming under each of the three foregoing general descriptions, and caused by enemies. Examples are found in Acts 16:19-23; Acts 21:28-32, etc. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff.

Toils, watchings, fastings: three more specific hardships, not necessarily caused by enemies.

Toils: 2 Corinthians 11:23 : in preaching the word; and in Paul’s labor to support himself and his companions, 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; Acts 20:34.

Watchings: absence of sleep, through bread-winning or evangelical labor continued into the night.

Fastings: 2 Corinthians 11:27 : want of food, as in Matthew 15:32. For it is unlikely that Paul would enumerate voluntary abstinence for his own spiritual good among the apostolic hardships mentioned here: whereas want of food is naturally suggested by want of sleep. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:11. By the accidents of travel or through sheer want Paul may have been occasionally without food: and, if so, this was the climax of his hardships.

2 Corinthians 6:6-8. Further specification of matters in which Paul claims respect, viz. four personal characteristics, followed by their divine source and their one foundation excellence.

Purity: absence of sin and selfishness. Knowledge: acquaintance with the things of God. Longsuffering, kindness: as in 1 Corinthians 13:4.

The Holy Spirit: whose presence was revealed in his conduct.

Love-without-hypocrisy: Romans 12:9 : the human, as the Holy Spirit was the divine, source of his actions. After these delineations of personal character, the word of truth and power of God direct us to his work as an evangelist. By speaking words which men felt to be true, (2 Corinthians 4:2,) and which were accompanied by the power of God sometimes working miracles to confirm them and always working results in men’s hearts, Paul and his colleagues claimed respect and acted as ministers of God.

With the weapons etc.: further description of the apostle’s work, looked upon as a warfare. So 2 Corinthians 10:3.

The righteousness: in Paul’s usual sense of righteousness by faith, as in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Cp. Ephesians 6:14, “breastplate of righteousness.” This great doctrine gave to Paul, as to Luther, powerful weapons with which to fight for God.

On the right hand and left: complete equipment on both sides. With a sword in his right hand the soldier struck his foe: with a shield in his left he defended himself. Justification by faith is to the preacher both sword and shield.

With (or amid) glory etc.: see under Romans 1:21; Romans 3:23. Both by the approbation which his conduct evokes in good men, and by the dishonor it provokes from the bad, Paul recommends himself. For the approval of the good and the hostility of the bad alike proved that he was doing God’s work. This last point, Paul develops into the climax of 2 Corinthians 6:9-10; for which he prepares a way by the exact antithesis good report and bad report.

2 Corinthians 6:9-10. Exposition of this antithesis. After developing in 2 Corinthians 6:4-7 a “in everything” of 2 Corinthians 6:4 a, Paul now develops “as God’s ministers.” Between these, 2 Corinthians 6:7-8 are a connecting link. In the evil report of their enemies they are deceivers: and good men know that they are true. It is objected that they are obscure and unknown. And really they are daily becoming well-known, and the principles of their conduct are day by day better understood. So great is their peril that they seem to be actually falling into the grave. Cp. 2 Corinthians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 8:36. Yet, in the moment of apparent destruction, suddenly comes deliverance.

And behold we live: graphic picture, retaining even the exclamation of wonder at unexpected rescue.

As chastised: to some men they seem to be put by God under special discipline. So seemed a more illustrious Sufferer: Isaiah 53:4. But the chastisement does not come to the extreme form of death.

As sorrowful: examples in 2 Corinthians 2:4; Romans 9:1. This sorrow might be made a reproach, as though their lot were wretched. But under their sorrow shone a changeless rejoicing, kindled by the brightness of the coming glory and the brightness of their Father’s smile.

Poor: toiling for a living and sometimes (2 Corinthians 11:8) in want.

Enriching many: by making them heirs of the wealth of heaven. Thus Paul followed the example of Christ: 2 Corinthians 8:9.

Having nothing: stronger than poor.

All things: as in Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 3:22. The whole wealth of God is theirs, and will be their eternal enjoyment. Wonderful climax, and counterpart to the picture in 2 Corinthians 6:4-5.

Each side of these contrasts commends the apostles as ministers of God. That men whom some decry as deceivers are found to be true, that men set aside as unknown become day by day more fully known, that men who seem to be in the jaws of death are rescued and men apparently smitten by God live still, that underneath visible sorrow there is constant joy, and that utter poverty is but a mask hiding infinite wealth, is abundant proof that they in whom these contradictions meet are indeed servants of God. Thus amid many and various hardships, in a spotless and kindly life animated by the Holy Spirit and by sincere love to men, and armed with a word which commends itself as the truth and is confirmed by the manifested power of God, in everything Paul and his companions claim respect and act as becomes ministers of God.

FROM THIS POINT we will review 4-8, which contain Paul’s exposition and defence of his apostolic ministry, and are thus the kernel of DIV. I. and of the whole Epistle. This exposition was suggested by thoughts about his deadly peril in Asia and about the anxiety which drove him from Troas and gave him no rest even on his arrival in Macedonia. But it was written under the influence of a wonderful rescue from peril, and of his joyful meeting with Titus who brought good news about the Corinthian church. Consequently, the exposition begins and ends with an outburst of triumph. Paul praises God that his weary toil, among both good and bad men, makes Christ known and is a pleasant perfume to God. His readers’ spiritual life proves to them that he is a servant of God. And, as imparting a life-giving Spirit instead of a death-bringing Law, his ministry is more glorious than that of Moses. Yet, in spite of Paul’s unreserved proclamation of it, the Gospel remains hidden to many, both Jews and Gentiles. But this only proves that their hearts are veiled or blinded. The grandeur of the Apostle’s work is not lessened by the deadly perils amid which it is performed, and which are every moment ready to destroy him. For these perils do but reveal the power of Him who ever provides a way of escape. And they cannot silence the preachers: for moved by the Spirit, they believe God; and therefore know that death will be followed by resurrection, and indeed by immediate entrance into the presence of Christ, and that beyond death due reward awaits them. Their efforts to save men are prompted by the love manifested in the death of Christ, and by their commission as ambassadors of God. With this commission their whole life accords.

More than once (2 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 5:12) Paul tells his readers that it is not they whom he seeks to convince-for this is needless: they are themselves as proof of what he says-but that he is giving them a weapon which he takes for granted they will use to defend him against others. Also, throughout the whole, the words we and us imply that his dignity, peril, and faithfulness, as ambassador for Christ, are shared by others. He certainly includes Timothy, his fellow-laborer in founding the church at Corinth and a faithful companion in peril and toil, and joint-author of the Epistle; and probably Titus (2 Corinthians 12:18) and other similar helpers.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/2-corinthians-5.html. 1877-90.
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