Unquestioned certainty as to the future, and present confidence of faith are seen here further developed. "We know" is the proper language of Christianity. "The earthly house of this tabernacle" is of course what is called the "earthen vessel" and "outward man" in chapter 4: that is, our physical body as it is today. There is no cause for alarm if it is dissolved, for it is only intended to be temporary. In fact, it is said (though we are not in present possession of it) that "We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens." That is, it is just as certain as though we were already inhabiting it. This is no doubt "the body that shall be," "a spiritual body," in contrast to that natural. For in resurrection the Lord Jesus shall change our body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His body of glory (Philippians 3:21). Our bodies then, in altered form, will be like that of the Lord Jesus. Meantime we groan, in desire to be clothed upon with that precious "house that is of heaven." It is not here "from heaven," as though this was its origin; but "of heaven," that is heavenly in character, suited to heavenly and spiritual conditions.
"If, at least, that being clothed, we shall not be found naked." From this viewpoint then it is possible to be clothed and yet naked. It is the unbeliever who will be found naked; so that, the resurrection body of the unbeliever, while clothing his soul and spirit, will not cover the shame of his nakedness. This verse then guards against unbelief assuming itself safe. True confidence is only for the child of faith.
Our present body, here called "this tabernacle," is one of humiliation, in which we groan, as does all creation today, having burdens and problems that never cease. Not however preferring to be unclothed, that is, in death, but clothed upon with the body of resurrection, "that mortality might be swallowed up of life." This is the normal, proper desire of the believing heart. If death is necessary on the way to obtaining this, the apostle is of course perfectly agreeable to passing through death; but with the assured future object of resurrection with Christ. It is God who has wrought within believers in view of this, and He has given them His Spirit as the earnest, that is the pledge and foretaste of this blessed end. He makes precious and real to us now the living power of such future glory.
"Therefore we are always confident." Whatever may transpire on earth, it cannot change this mighty working of God. The apostles rest upon His faithfulness. If now at home in the body, they are of course absent from the Lord, who is Himself in heaven. And since walking by faith, not by sight, they are fully confident and willing to be absent from the body, and at home with the Lord. This of course is not the full objective of being clothed upon, but the prospect of even this gives them not the slightest tremor of fear, for the eternal future is certain.
Paul's zeal in verse 9 is to be "agreeable" to the Lord, that is, to fully please the One in whom he has such confidence. For fullest manifestation of everything is to be made at the judgment seat of Christ. Every individual will be manifested there. For the believer, the judgment seat of Christ will be in heaven, after the rapture: for the unbeliever it will be the Great White Throne, where men are judged according to their works. The believer "shall not come into judgment" (John 5:24); but his works shall be judged, and he shall receive the things done in his body, whether good or worthless. All will be laid bare before the eyes of the Lord of glory: all that has been truly done for Him will receive a reward, all else burned up (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). It is no question of law, but rather of the measure in which grace has been responded to in the life of the believer. Yet all that is worthless will be rejected, and "the terror of the Lord" is an expression not to be lightly regarded.
For the terror of the Lord is against what is contrary to His character: nothing of this can stand before His presence. Knowing this, the apostles were diligent in persuading men to no longer fight against God, but to be reconciled. As to their relation to God, it was as being now made fully manifest, not merely leaving this till the future. And they trusted that the Corinthians too would recognize this open honesty in them. Certainly they ought to have, without Paul's writing to them; but he wrote, not to defend themselves, but for the sake of the Corinthians, who were being wrongly influenced by men whose appearance was impressive, but whose hearts were not true, very likely the "false apostles" of whom he speaks in chapter 11:13. What Paul writes would certainly furnish the Corinthians with good material for answering the proud assumptions of such men, by pointing to the willing self - humiliation of the apostles, in devotion to the Person of Christ. How much more convincing a proof of apostleship than the officious ways of ambitious men!
For if it seemed the apostles were "beside themselves," that is, consumed with burning zeal, yet God was the Object of this devotion; or if on the other hand they showed a sober spirit of genuine concern, it was for the sake of the true blessing of souls, the Corinthians and others too.
As in verse 11 the knowledge of the terror of the Lord moves them deeply, so in verse 14 does the love of Christ. For love deeply desires to deliver souls from the awful terror of the Lord against the evil that has taken them captive. Christ has in infinite love "died for all;" but this does not save all. It rather proves that all are under sentence of death, and makes available to all the salvation that is obtained by receiving Christ Himself as Saviour. The fact of Christ's death therefore is only death to the unbeliever. The believer however, receiving Christ, receives the life that results from His death, in fact resurrection life.
How right then that "they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." Certainly He Himself is to be the Object of that new life which He has communicated. Self has no remaining claim whatever: death is its rightful portion. Christ alone is worthy of the entire devotion of the believer's life.
The death of Christ then has brought to an end all men according to flesh. Even though some had known Christ as Man on earth, in a body of flesh and blood, yet He can never be known in this way again. The relationship of Mary, His mother, to Him, can no longer be the same. She knows Him now in a higher, more vital relationship, which is shared by all true believers. In resurrection He is Head of a new creation, the first having been set aside by His death. On the old basis, Mary Magdalene could not touch Him, but she was to know Him as ascended to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God (John 20:16-17).
"In Christ" is new creation, a contrast to being "in Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:22) the head of the first creation. In new creation, "old things are passed away - all things are become new." He is not speaking of the experience of a believer, but of his new position. Some have been deeply frustrated in trying to apply this to daily experience, for manifestly our present body is still connected with Adam and the first creation, and the fleshly nature is still with us. But positionally we are now introduced permanently into this new creation by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, and this is henceforth our proper sphere of life - Christ Himself the Head, and therefore the Object to attract the heart. The circumstances into which I am introduced are those entirely new; and having a new nature as born of God, this is itself a vital connection with this blessed new creation.
"All things are of God." The first creation was corrupted by the introduction of Satan's lie and man's disobedience. But nothing can possibly mar the perfection of the new creation: nothing is conditional, as it was in the garden of Eden: all is the work of God alone, involving the complete settlement of the sin Adam introduced, and the marvellous reconciliation of those once enemies, by means of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, reconciliation "to Himself," the God of infinite grace.
And by grace too He has committed to His servants "the ministry of reconciliation." Marvellous is the reality and power of this, "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Adam was responsible for the guilt that has estranged man from God. We may say then that man was responsible to remedy this. But he could not: sin's enmity is too much for him. But God, who was not in any way responsible to do so, has in pure love and grace laid the perfect foundation of reconciliation for all the world, by the gift of His own Son. The only way by which our trespasses could be "not imputed" to us, was by means of the blessed sacrifice of Calvary, where they were imputed to Christ instead. Blessed basis for taking away man's enmity toward God! Indeed, in this we see how wrong we were in ever having been antagonistic to Him.
What a message then is that given to His servants! It is totally in contrast to that of asking something from man, but the declaring of the kindness of God in making full provision for man's reconciliation by pure grace. The apostles were in a special way "ambassadors for Christ," sent with the message of such love, the instruments through whom God Himself entreated mankind to be reconciled to Him. It would be more normal to expect that man would be earnestly entreating God to deal in mercy with him. But God rather urges man to accept now the mercy that He has so graciously proffered to all. So His love is seen, not only in the wonderful sacrifice of His own Son to bear our sins, but also in His patient grace and entreaty with men to receive His love.
In verse 21, as always everywhere, how careful is the Spirit of God to insist upon the spotless sinlessness of the nature of the Lord Jesus. Not only is it said, "Who did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22), but "in Him is no sin" (1 John 3:5), and here, "Who knew no sin." Sin is totally foreign to His nature: nothing in Him could possibly respond to its temptations. He "suffered, being tempted," the very opposite of any inclination to give way (Hebrews 2:18). Yet at Calvary God made Him to be sin for us, the only sacrifice possible. The wonder and the dreadful solemnity of this will never cease to engage the adoration and affections of our hearts for eternity. And in result God's righteousness is forever displayed in the saints and in their identification with Christ, their Representative.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany