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Opening Greeting (2 Corinthians 1:1-2 ).
‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia.’
Having again established his reputation in Corinth Paul addresses the believers as ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God.’ He is, he says, a directly God-appointed ‘Apostle of Christ Jesus’, chosen as such from birth and called by God in accordance with His will (Galatians 1:15). For a similar greeting compare Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1Ti 1:1 ; 2 Timothy 1:1. It is noteworthy that when he includes others in his greeting, and he does not separately cite the fact that he is an Apostle, no title is ever used, unless we consider the word ‘bondmen’ (douloi) (Philippians 1:1) to be a title. Apostleship was unique, and gave unique authority. The others were ‘brothers’.
This introduction in 2 Corinthians was a fairly standard introduction, and did not introduce any special further comment. He clearly felt that it was all that needed to be said. Later in the letter he will defend his right to the title to the hilt, but it seems that he did not feel it necessary at this stage.
‘An Apostle of Jesus Christ.’ This phrase primarily, of course, referred to the Apostles appointed by Jesus (and named ‘Apostles’ by Jesus - Luke 6:13), ‘the twelve’ (John 20:24; Acts 6:2; 1 Corinthians 15:5), who had directly received revelation from Jesus and were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:22; 1 Corinthians 15:5). They had come to include James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19), who possibly replaced the martyred James (Acts 12:2 with Galatians 2:9) as Matthias replaced Judas (Acts 1:10-26).
In Acts the twelve are clearly distinguished as unique. When writing about those who met in the Jerusalem church to make vital decisions, the leaders apart from the Apostles are called ‘the elders’, and the Apostles are mentioned separately. Note the phrase ‘the Apostles and the Elders’ (e.g. Acts 15:2; Acts 15:4; Acts 15:9; Acts 15:22-23), even though the Apostles could also be called Elders ( 1Pe 5:1 ; 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1). The ‘Elders’ are those usually responsible for churches (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17). Thus Paul, by calling himself an Apostle here, sets himself alongside the twelve as having this unique position. Like them he too claimed to be a primary source of direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12), and was recognised as such by the twelve (Galatians 2:7-9). And it is clear that he looked on his calling to Apostleship (Romans 11:13; 1 Corinthians 9:1) as being on a par with, and as personal as, theirs (Galatians 1:16-17).
‘Apostolos’, an apostle, is derived from apostellein, (to send forth,) and originally signified literally a messenger. The term was employed by earlier classical writers to denote the commander of an expedition, or a delegate, or an ambassador (see Herodotus, 5. 38), but its use in this way was later rare as it came to have a technical meaning referring to ‘the fleet’, and possibly also the fleet’s admiral. It may be that Jesus spoke with a sense of humour when he named the fishermen ‘Apostles’ using this term, seeing them as the future ‘catchers of men’ (although it would require that He gave the title in Greek. This is not, however, impossible. They were bi-lingual).
In the New Testament, apart from its use of the Apostles, it is also employed in a more general non-technical sense to denote important messengers sent out by churches on God’s service (see Luk 11:49 ; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25; 1 Thessalonians 2:6), but presumably the only authority it then gives is their authority as messengers of whoever sent them, and it is nowhere suggested that it is permanent. And in one instance it is applied to Christ Himself, as the One sent forth from God (Hebrews 3:1). But in the main it is reserved for the twelve (including James, the Lord’s brother), and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14). Paul certainly saw it as giving him a recognised authority direct from Jesus Christ. He saw himself, along with the twelve, as being specifically and personally commissioned by Jesus.
‘Through the will of God.’ This solemn statement stresses the importance of his office. He declares that it is through the sovereign will of the eternal God that he has been so appointed. He is deliberately emphasising that he was called as an Apostle by the direct will and purpose of God, so underlining that he has been chosen out within God’s specific purposes. He no doubt intended them to see this as being evidenced by his experience on the Road to Damascus, where God had set him apart in a unique way through the appearance to him of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling him to a unique ministry among the Gentiles. He wanted them to know that he spoke with maximum authority.
But in the light of what comes later in the letter we may probably also see this ‘through the will of God’ as in direct contrast to those who ‘transformed themselves into the Apostles of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:13), those who ‘call themselves Apostles and are not’ (Revelation 2:2), appointed by themselves and not by the will of God. He wants to stress that, in contrast to theirs, his Apostleship is through the will of God.
With him in his greeting he includes Timothy, who is with him at the time, who is simply ‘our brother’. This mention was because they knew of Timothy from an earlier letter (1 Corinthians 16:10), and, if his proposed visit had ever taken place, actually knew him personally. It also had the purpose of establishing Timothy as one who worked with him and could be relied on. The intention was that it would give him authority if ever he again went to Corinth on Paul’s behalf.
‘To the church of God which is at Corinth.’ This covers all the Christians in Corinth no matter which gathering they attended. The ‘church’ is the sum of the believers. ‘Church of God’ is equivalent to ‘all the saints (sanctified ones)’. That it is ‘of God’ confirms that they are seen as belonging to God and therefore ‘sanctified’ (set apart for a holy purpose) to Him (1 Corinthians 1:2).
‘With all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia.’ The letter is intended to go throughout Achaia. This was probably intended to indicate a local area around Corinth, based on ancient usage, rather than the larger Achaia of Paul’s day. The ancient usage was probably preserved in the area itself as such usages tend to be. The title ‘saints’ is taken from the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 33:3; 1 Samuel 2:9; 2 Chronicles 6:41; Psalms (20 times); Daniel (4 times)) and confirms that the church was seen as the new Israel (compare Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12-22; Romans 11:13-24). God’s people are God’s ‘holy ones’, God’s separated ones, sanctified (set apart for God) in Christ Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 1:2).
‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Grace’ and ‘peace’ were the two terms used in greetings in Paul’s world, the former by Gentiles the latter by Jews. But Paul, while taking them over, transforms them and imbues them with new meaning. It is noteworthy that with him ‘grace’ always precedes ‘peace’, for peace results from God’s ‘freely shown, unmerited favour’.
‘Grace to you.’ Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us and acting towards us in undeserved love and favour, and this is what is signified by grace. It is God acting towards us in continual saving power in spite of our undeserving. Thus Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he desires for them only that they enjoy the continued experience of the unmerited and compassionate favour of God working to bring about their full salvation.
‘And peace.’ Peace results from grace, for it is through God’s grace that we find peace. But this kind of peace is also God’s gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. On the other hand, however much things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4:7). And it is this that Paul wished for, and prayed for, on behalf of the Corinthians.
‘From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ What a combined source of power and grace. This continual linking of the name of our ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ with ‘God the Father’ in perfect equality again demonstrates Paul’s view of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:3; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2 and often, and contrast Colossians 1:2). This is especially significant as ‘Lord’ (kurios) was the word used by the Greek translators to render the name of God, Yahweh. The two were one in equality and essence.
‘From God our Father.’ God is Father as the Lord of creation (James 1:17), the Father after Whom ‘every fatherhood in Heaven and earth is named’ (Ephesians 3:15), and especially as Father to those who are in Christ through the Spirit and thus called His true ‘sons’ (Galatians 3:26; Galatians 4:4-7; Romans 8:14-17; Ephesians 1:5). The use of ‘our’ lays stress on the third. They are sons and daughters of God.
‘And The Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is a powerful combination. ‘The Lord’ in context with God the Father indicates sovereignty and creativity. It carries within it the idea of ‘the Lord’ (Yahweh) of the Old Testament (compare Philippians 2:9-11). There is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ in contrast with many so-called ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ (1 Corinthians 8:6).
The name ‘Jesus’ brings us specifically to His manhood. This ‘Lord’ was One Who had become a man on earth, Who had lived among men and whom many could testify to knowing. They had seen Him, watched Him, handled Him, and touched Him (1 John 1:1). The Word (the eternal One through Whom God spoke) was made flesh (John 1:14).
The term ‘Christ’ emphasises both His mission as sent by God, and His resurrection and glorification. He had been promised from of old. He had been ‘anointed’ (Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; Acts 10:38), that is specifically set apart for His unique purpose. He had been raised from the dead and established as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), restored to the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). The whole name sums up the totality of what He is.
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ.’
The connection of the emphasis on ‘comfort’ (exhortation, strengthening) with the final salvation comes out strongly in its connection here with the sufferings of Christ. The significance of ‘the sufferings of Christ’ as connected with His people is that they are sufferings borne with the final end in view, as part of the working out of salvation. In playing their part in the salvation of God’s chosen ones His people will suffer as He suffered throughout His life on earth (John 15:20; John 16:2). They will suffer with Him in the purposes of salvation (Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 4:12-13; Philippians 3:10-11; 2 Timothy 3:12 compare Matthew 5:10-12), and Christ will suffer along with them (Acts 9:5), and they will be comforted.
Much of the letter will in fact be speaking of the sufferings of Christ as known by those who serve Him. Paul sees them as very much a sign of his Apostleship. God’s ways are carried on through suffering, as they have ever been. Moses suffered. The prophets suffered. Jesus Christ Himself suffered. And He had warned His Apostles that they too would suffer (John 15:18-21; John 16:2-3; John 16:33). And now Paul and his fellow-workers suffer. This in itself is confirmation that they are in line with those previous men of God (contrary to the view of some of his opponents in Corinth)
So this introduction majors on comfort and encouragement in the face of the affliction that they are all facing up to for Christ’s sake in the course of salvation, leading up to final salvation. Behind the words lies the fact that the comfort is needed because their sufferings and afflictions arise in the course of their faith, and in the course of the ongoing purposes of God. As they have their part in the extension of God’s Kingly Rule in Christ, so they are having their part in the sufferings of Christ.
To the early church the ‘sufferings of Christ’ were twofold. Firstly were the unique sufferings of Christ necessary for our salvation, what we might call His atoning sufferings, in which His people could have no part except to receive the benefit of them. Christ suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 13:12 compare Luke 22:15; 1 Peter 1:11). But interestingly from this point of view, especially in view of Isaiah 53:0, the emphasis in Paul is more on the atoning significance of His death than on His sufferings. He dose not stress how much He suffered. And Peter here also really means ‘suffered in death’ (1 Peter 3:19; compare Hebrews 2:9). It was His final suffering in death that atoned, not His general sufferings.
And then, secondly, there were the general sufferings of Christ, which taught Him obedience (Hebrews 5:8), and included the sufferings of His people for His sake ( Act 9:4 ; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 4:19; Romans 8:17; Philippians 3:10), which taught them the same (Romans 5:3-5). These sufferings were a necessary part of His ministry (Luke 17:25) and of the ministry of the church ( Php 1:29 ; 2 Timothy 2:12; 2 Timothy 3:12). Suffering was seen as very much a necessary part of the ongoing carrying forward of God’s purposes, as Paul was very much aware, for an essential part of his call was that he would suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 9:16). These were ‘the sufferings of Christ’ which abounded towards him.
Paul will himself in this letter thus declare that he has been enduring much affliction, including severe affliction in Ephesus, and the affliction that had come directly from the attitudes of the Corinthian church, but he assures them that he recognises that this affliction is for his good and theirs, for it teaches him important lessons and enables him also to encourage and comfort those who are afflicted, and it is his part in the eschatological sufferings. (And the same is true of the affliction he has caused for the Corinthians by his earlier severe letter, probably one which followed 1 Corinthians but preceded this one but is now lost. This has strengthened them too).
‘‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.’ In his letters, after his initial greeting, Paul regularly changes what follows to suit particular cases. And the liturgical nature of some of these introductions should be noted. The letter is to be read in the church and Paul wants it to be a part of their worship. For a similar blessing compare Eph 1:3 ; 1 Peter 1:3. He speaks like this because prior to hearing his letter read he wants their hearts to be upraised in praise and thanksgiving as they consider God the Father in the greatness of His mercies, and especially in His sending of our Lord Jesus Christ, to suffer on our behalf (2 Corinthians 1:5). After all that is linked closely with his purpose in life.
‘Blessed be God’ was a liturgical phrase found both in synagogue worship and in the worship of the Qumran community. So Paul adapts what to him is a well known phrase, for Christian use. ‘Father of mercies’ also echoes the ‘God of mercies’ at Qumran and ‘merciful Father’ of the synagogues, but again it is seemingly adapted. The Father is both merciful, and the source of all mercies as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. His mercies abound towards His own, especially though His saving purposes and in the giving of His Son. Thus He is also the God of all comfort.
‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.’ In this is summed up God’s saving purposes. God is the Father of the One Who has come to save, our Lord (the One Who is over all), Jesus (which means Yahweh is salvation) Christ (God’s anointed and sent One). He is the Father of mercies, of all the mercies of salvation history, especially as revealed in the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). He is the God of all comfort, the One Who brings comfort, encouragement and strengthening to those who are suffering in accordance with His plan and necessary strategy of salvation (Isaiah 40:1-2; Isaiah 40:31).
‘And God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God.’ He now applies the general to the particular. As well as being the Father of mercies, this gracious God is also the God of all comfort (encouragement, strengthening). The word is from the same root as that used of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (Helper, Encourager) by Jesus in John 14-16. God comes alongside to comfort, strengthen and encourage to the ultimate degree.
We should note again that ‘comfort’ is a prophetic word pointing towards the fulfilment of God’s purposes. It is found for example in Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 51:12; Isaiah 51:19. (See also references above). So Paul is stressing that the ‘end of the ages’ is here. The God of comfort is at work in bringing about His promised comfort and deliverance to those who suffer for His name’s sake. As God carries forward His purposes to the end He continually encourages and ‘comforts’ His people.
Thus, says Paul, aware of his part in end of the age activities, God comforts us (he and his fellow-workers) in our trials, and in all afflictions that we have to face. This not only strengthens us and brings home to us the love of God (Romans 5:1-5), but it also enables us to encourage and strengthen others, because of the encouragement He has given us, and results in our, and their, final salvation. Without the afflictions that they faced they would be in no position to comfort others who suffered, in a world where suffering was often commonplace. Nor would the process of salvation be carried through. Here we use ‘salvation’ in its fullest sense of the whole process of salvation.
Note the plural ‘us’. Paul is not just thinking of his own afflictions, or even of his and Timothy’s. He is aware of others who face what he does, as they minister for Christ. The ‘us’ primarily means him and his compatriots, and those who labour truly as they do, as they carry forward their ministry in the face of opposition and hatred. It also therefore includes us when we too carry forward that ministry in our lives. But he is, for example, also aware of how his severe letter to the Corinthians must have made them suffer too (2 Corinthians 7:8). They too are workers together with Christ. And the more a Christian gives such comfort and encouragement to others, the more God will give it to him, enabling him to do so even more.
‘For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ.’ For as he and his fellow-workers have been called by Christ to take up the cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23), so do sufferings and affliction abound towards them, and so through Christ does His comfort also abound towards them. As His people they have been crucified with Him, and have been united with Him in His death and resurrection (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:5), and they must therefore expect to endure sufferings for His sake. But they are also equally certain of His comfort, of His sustaining, of His encouragement. This affliction includes threats and persecutions and reproach, as well as the more subtle attacks of the Enemy. But the more these abound towards them, the more they know of God’s comfort and encouragement through Christ.
For Paul above all men was very much aware that ‘the sufferings of Christ’ went far beyond what He had suffered at the cross, great though those were, for he constantly remembered how on the Damascus Road Jesus had said to him, ‘Why do you persecute Me?’ (Acts 9:4-5). He himself had helped to make those sufferings worse. This memory constantly brought home to him that all the sufferings and afflictions which came on those who spread forth His word were part of Christ’s sufferings. They were the expected ‘Messianic sufferings’ which would bring in the final hope. To that end not only do His servants suffer, but He suffers with His servants. And as these sufferings abounded towards them so they knew that God’s encouragement and comfort would also abound towards them through Christ.
We too if we are faithful to Christ will at times have to endure affliction in one way or another, sharing in His sufferings, but when we do, if we do it in line with His saving purposes, we too may be sure that God will abound towards us in comfort and encouragement in the midst of those trials, for to such He is the God of all comfort.
God Both Afflicts And Comforts All Who Are His For Their Salvation (2 Corinthians 1:3-11 ).
The verses that follow lay the foundation of what he will say throughout the letter. At first sight they might appear to contain simply a message of comfort and strengthening in the face of suffering. And if it were so it would be an important message. And it would especially bring out that Paul and his fellow-workers were appointed as strengtheners of the churches. But deeper consideration brings out that it very much has reference to the ‘salvation’ that God has brought in ‘the last days’ (that is, the days following the coming and death and resurrection of Jesus, which were seen as the final days before the end), and the need in the light of it to share in the sufferings of Christ for the fulfilling of His purposes, and to be kept by God in the right way to the end.
In LXX ‘comfort’ (encourage, strengthen) is a word directly connected with the coming in of the last days, and of God’s deliverance. When those come God will comfort (encourage, strengthen) His people (LXX - Isaiah 35:4; Isaiah 40:1-2; Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 41:27; Isaiah 49:10; Isaiah 49:13; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 51:12; Isaiah 61:2; Isaiah 66:12-13 compare Exodus 15:13; Psalms 126:1). This is why Jesus called the Holy Spirit ‘the Comforter’ (John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7). And His ‘mercies’ as mentioned here very much have in mind His great salvation (2 Corinthians 1:6) and deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:10), the resurrection from the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9), and the coming day of our Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:14). And these constantly lie in the background to this passage. So all he says here has these ideas in mind and leads up to them. His final concern for the Corinthians is not so much their comfort in suffering, although that is important to him, but their salvation through it, although their comfort and encouragement play an important part within that. It is about comfort and encouragement and strengthening with a view to final deliverance.
‘But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which he works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer, and our hope for you is steadfast (firm, gilt-edged), knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort.’
It was one of the accusations of Paul’s opponents that he was a weak and suffering figure. To them this did not accord with the idea that he was God’s chosen representative. Rather they considered that as such a representative of God he should be reigning and triumphant (compare 1 Corinthians 4:8). So, they argued, he was clearly not an Apostle. But Paul here draws attention to the fact that as Christ has suffered so will His true servants suffer, for it is through such suffering that God’s purposes will come to fulfilment. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Therefore, rather than it showing him as lacking in God’s eyes, it reveals him as a true Apostle of God.
For those who serve God in ministry will go through differing experiences. Sometimes affliction will abound. This is a necessary part of them being able to participate in the encouragement and salvation of His people. And sometimes comfort will abound. God gives them both experiences so that they might be better fitted to bring help and blessing and comfort and salvation to others. But in both cases, whether of suffering or of comfort, it will be so that through their ministry God will work, through the patient endurance by His people of similar sufferings, towards their final comfort and salvation.
So he and his fellow-workers can through their sufferings and through God’s working, bring comfort, encouragement and saving deliverance to God’s people, as God’s people too face the similar sufferings and afflictions which are inherent in serving Christ. For all who are Christ’s must suffer in one way or another (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-14), and Paul is sure that in doing so they will also experience God’s comfort and strength, and salvation, both during it and as its final consequence.
‘As you are partakers of the sufferings.’ The Corinthian church was no exception. They too would suffer trauma and afflictions. They should therefore recognise that they are one with the suffering church, and that such sufferings are a sign of the carrying forward of God’s final purposes, and of their partaking in Christ’ saving work.
The first century church was necessarily a suffering church, and the next three hundred years would at times compound those sufferings, but through it God would establish them and keep them pure. In the words of Tertullian, the blood of the martyrs would be the seed of the church. And through it all God would be their strength and comfort. And through the ages His people have suffered in many ways, sometimes external, sometimes internal, as they have taken forward God’s purposes, and they too have experienced His ‘comfort’.
‘It is for your comfort and salvation.’ This latter does not infer, of course, that the sufferings of God’s ministers are in any way atoning. For full salvation consists of more than just atonement. Atonement is the foundation and the necessary beginning of salvation. And that was what Christ accomplished, sufficiently and totally (Hebrews 10:14). Without it there could be no salvation, and it must necessarily continue to be applied to the end (1 John 1:7), but ‘salvation’ is also that whole process which is carried on from when we first believe in Christ through to our finally being presented before Him holy and without blemish, and those who minister to us are part of that process. And in order that this process may succeed, His servants must endure the sufferings which are a necessary part of that process, as must we.
For God’s saving work involves them in participating in Christ’s sufferings. As Paul says boldly elsewhere, they ‘fill up that which is behind in the sufferings of Christ’ (Colossians 1:24). Christ’s sufferings obtained full atonement and satisfaction for the sins of the world. They were completely sufficient for that. Nothing else is required. The sufferings of His people as they serve Him are a part of the work of ensuring that the efficacy of those sufferings are applied to all Whom He has chosen, with the result that God works within them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Those who are engaged in battle must expect their battle wounds.
‘Our hope for you is steadfast (firm, gilt-edged).’ In spite of his afflictions Paul has no doubts. He is fully confident and certain. God has issued a guilt-edged promise, and that is the basis of his hope. So Paul knows that just as he suffers they will suffer, but he knows too that it will be for their final comfort and salvation.
We today do not fully understand these words, for we see ministers of God living in luxury, and we too endure so little. Perhaps we should stop and consider that it may be that which explains why we are so ineffective. Not that we should seek suffering. We should never do that. Jesus warned us that we must pray, ‘deliver us from testing and trial’. To do anything else is to be presumptuous. (Those who deliberately sought martyrdom were often those who failed in the end). But our ‘suffering’ can constitute that which we willingly sacrifice for the cause of Christ, and the price we pay in labouring faithfully in His service, and the attacks that we will inevitably face from the Enemy and from sinners if we are live faithfully and speak faithfully. And if we were willing to face up to more of the cost perhaps there might be more of the benefit.
For then we would also find that we have at times to face different afflictions in different ways, for we can be sure that if we serve Christ Satan will not leave us alone for long, and while sinners may approve of us for a time, it will not be long before we cross them because we stand firm to God’s demands, with the result that they will suddenly turn sour. So we must not expect that the way will be easy. We too will at times face afflictions and trials. But in the midst of them we may rejoice in that we in some small way thereby share the sufferings of Christ, and will find God’s comfort and encouragement abounding in the midst of our afflictions so that we too will have our part in the salvation by God of His people.
‘For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life.’
Paul now goes on to illustrate this by telling the Corinthians about his more recent difficult experiences. He will not hide from them the fact of his weakness and suffering. It is part of God’s saving activity. In his activities in Asia he and his fellow-workers had been constantly afflicted and heavily weighed down, almost beyond endurance. It had been outside their control (beyond our power), and it had reached such a stage that he and his compatriots had despaired even of life.
‘Yes, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.’
Indeed they had felt themselves under sentence of death, and had accepted the fact that they were probably going to die, but he recognised that this had happened so that they might not trust in themselves, but in God Who raises the dead. It had forced them to face up to what the Gospel was all about. And so they had faced up to death, looking it in the face, accepting its inevitability, and yet willingly continuing on towards it, and they had done it because they believed in the God ‘Who raises the dead’ (compare 2 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 4:17).
What this experience was of which Paul was speaking we do not know. It may have been a severe bout of illness which appeared at first mortal, from which he was raised as one dead, although in that case we would expect his words to be in the singular, or it may be the same situation that made him speak of ‘fighting beasts at Ephesus’ (1 Corinthians 15:32), the opposition of violent men, or it may be that they had been caught up in mob violence time and again and had only just escaped with their lives, or it may be that they were under threat from the authorities. Acts, however, gives us no indication of such a situation, and there the authorities appear as reasonable men. Whatever it was it seemed to have passed.
‘Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver. On whom we have set our hope that he will also yet deliver us.’
This verse contains a number of significant points. It speaks of ‘so great a death’, which in the light of Paul’s continued use of ‘death’ as the prime way of signifying man’s final fate, must surely have special significance. It speaks of ‘our hope’, a thought that in Paul is regularly looking forward to salvation and deliverance and Christ’s coming. It depicts the past, the near future and the far future as covering the whole of life until that day. (To make ‘he will deliver us, on whom we have set our hope that he will yet deliver us’ signify merely a hope of escaping a violent death in the future seems a little trite). And it follows immediately a reference to the supreme fact of ‘God Who raises the dead’. This must surely suggest therefore that we are to look here beyond the simple idea of death as depicted in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, which to Paul was something he regularly faced, to something of more permanent significance.
So we must first ask, why does he speak here of ‘so great a death’ and of ‘setting his hope’? Surely death is death, whether it be by illness, drowning, execution or violent men. One death is not greater than another. This in itself alerts us to the fact that there are two possible ways of looking at these words. One way is to see them as arising directly from the idea of ‘God Who raises the dead’, and thus delivers from ‘the great death’, an idea which we may see as making him briefly digress in order to glory in the fact of full salvation, past, present and future, as he considers the glorious truth of total deliverance from ‘death’, even ‘so great a death’. And the other which sees him as going well over the top in his thoughts about his own vulnerability, and declaring confidently that God will preserve his life, not only yesterday and tomorrow, but into the distant future. (In which case some of his later protestations about death as though it were constantly imminent seem a little exaggerated. Paul does not elsewhere give the impression of great invulnerability).
The first alternative then is that as he considers that greatest of all triumphs, God as the One Who ‘raises the dead’, it calls to mind that even greater deliverance than his recent deliverance from mere earthly death, a deliverance from the even ‘greater’ death, from Death the great enemy itself (1 Corinthians 15:26; 1 Corinthians 15:5-57), by the resurrecting God, a death from which God has delivered him through his participation in the resurrection of Christ, and would continue to deliver him, which then leads on to him triumphing in the fullness of salvation.
For in the end to Paul it is death that is the great enemy. Not physical death, but death in all its finality. That is what he surely sees as ‘so great a death’. In which case we may see his words here as a typical Pauline flight into a declaration of triumph at the certainty of the final defeat of that death, of the final deliverance from ‘so great a death’, brought to mind in the light of their recent experiences of facing and escaping physical death.
That would mean that we are here to see him as declaring in awe and gratitude that He Who raises the dead had indeed also acted on their behalf in an even greater way than delivering them from a momentary physical death. He had delivered them from an even greater death (‘so great a death’) through the cross, the eternal death that is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23), giving them life from the dead when they believed in Him ( 2Co 4:10-11 ; 2 Corinthians 6:9; Romans 6:4), and that He would continue to deliver them as they walk with Him, and that he has ‘set his hope’ on the fact that God will finally deliver them in the end by the final triumphant resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 6:5-10). For this is what is involved in the Christian hope, the knowledge of having been delivered from ‘death’, the need for continual recognition of our deliverance from death, and the certainty of having a glorious part in the coming ‘day of our Lord Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 1:14), with the joyful expectancy of the resurrection from the dead or its living equivalent (1 Corinthians 15:52) when death will have been finally defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26).
For we must remember that to Paul all death was ever a reminder of the greater death that was the last enemy, the enemy which was defeated at the resurrection and would finally be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). He ever thought of man’s final fate as ‘death’ (Romans 1:32; Romans 5:10-21; Romans 6:23 compare 2 Timothy 1:10). (He never speaks of Hades or Gehenna). Deliverance from this ‘death’ was what the cross and resurrection was all about. It was a foe which sought to gain victory and, in those who belonged to Christ, finally failed (1 Corinthians 15:55). And behind it lay the dark figure of Satan (compare Hebrews 2:14). This was surely the ‘so great a death’.
For in all that he is saying here Paul is constantly aware of the great saving purposes of God (compare 2 Corinthians 7:10), and as we have seen already (2 Corinthians 1:5-7 in general but specifically 2 Corinthians 1:6), it is ever in the background and especially so earlier in this passage. We have already noted the sense of the ‘end of the age’ apparent in his references to God’s ‘comforting’ of His people, in the light of Isaiah 40:1, and to the process of salvation as ‘the sufferings of Christ’ abounded towards them (2 Corinthians 1:5), along with his sudden introduction of the idea of ‘salvation’ in 2 Corinthians 1:6, all lying behind the words he speaks, and this is further apparent in 2 Corinthians 1:14 in his reference to ‘the day of our Lord Jesus’, which demonstrates that the glory of God’s eschatological deliverance is lying behind all he is saying. What more likely then that he should burst into praise in this way?
For this idea of being ‘delivered’ (‘ruomai) soteriologically compare Colossians 1:13, ‘delivered out of the power of darkness’ (in the past), and 1 Thessalonians 1:10, ‘Who delivers us from the wrath to come’ (in the future). Compare also Romans 7:24, ‘who shall deliver me from this body of death (body which deserves death and is dying)?’. The Gospel not only contains the idea of ‘salvation’ but of ‘deliverance’.
This would seem to be confirmed by his reference to ‘set our hope’. This idea of ‘hope’ regularly refers to the expectation of salvation and deliverance and of Christ’s coming (compare especially 1 Timothy 4:10; see also 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Corinthians 15:19). In the light of this New Testament usage can we really see it as an expression he would use merely in relation to facing death in the future? Was he really just hoping not to die? Surely his hope was something that went beyond this life (1 Corinthians 15:19). To him the facing of death in the normal sense was a commonplace experience. And even something to be desired (Philippians 1:23). And added to this is the fact that we know of no reason why Paul should have had such a portent about a continual facing of death in the future, other than that which he was used to and treated lightly (1 Corinthians 4:9; Romans 8:36). He even exults in it (2 Corinthians 4:10-12). Would he then here give deliverance from it quite such prominence and importance?
On the other hand it must be admitted that most do see it as referring to the fact that they were aware that they had been marvellously saved from a particularly unpleasant death and that this situation of facing such a death was weighing heavily on them, so that they were trusting Him for continual deliverance on and on into the future. They had been delivered out of the violent death they faced, they were sure that God would continue in the same way to deliver them from such a death which would constantly face them, and indeed they had set their hope on the fact that He would go on and on delivering them, presumably until their time was come.
But in the light of Paul’s desire to depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:23) and the fact that he believed that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21) this interpretation would seem to make the verse go rather over the top (some good manuscripts exclude ‘and will deliver’, possibly for this reason). Would Paul really have been so overwhelmed at the thought of facing death, something which he had faced many times, and even looked forward to, that he would write about it in this extended and exaggerated way even to the extent of speaking of escape from it as his ‘hope’? The only possible reason for such a deep concern might be that he was afraid of what effect his death might have on the progress of the Gospel, but that would have been a slight on God’s sovereign power. He knew as well as any that no man is indispensable, even though he was aware of his value to the church (Philippians 1:24).
We might also ask, would Paul have seen this mere deliverance from earthly death in terms of the ‘raising of the dead’, unless it was leading on to a declaration of the greater hope. Jewish writers did so, but while they believed in the resurrection, they did not have the great vision of the resurrection and the Christian’s triumph that Paul had (1 Corinthians 15:0).
And we might add that if the possibility of constant death had so deeply weighed on him at this time for so long a period is it likely that we would receive no hint of it from Luke in Acts, who would surely have known about the events he had in mind if they were so serious and long lasting.
So we might rather feel that the earlier part of the passage has been building up to such a triumphant statement of God’s saving purposes, which he has now released. If it is seen like that we have here the whole sweep of God’s purposes revealed, as guaranteed by His being the Raiser from the dead, salvation in the past from ‘so great a death’ accomplished once and for all as they trusted in Christ and were delivered from the power of darkness and the fear of death; salvation in the present and near future as they walked daily with Christ trusting in His daily deliverance; and salvation in the end future as they were raised by God to share eternity with Him and were delivered from the wrath to come. (See our summary of the evidence below).
‘You also helping together on our behalf by your supplication, that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.’
Having risen to the heights Paul now returns to earth, and commends ‘many’ who had contributed to his deliverance from death. As a result of their supplication he and his fellow-workers had been given the gracious gift (charisma), in context of having their lives preserved, with the result that many could give thanks on their behalf. The use of ‘many’ may have reference to the fact that he was still aware that he could not say ‘all’, that he was aware of the minority in Corinth who would not have prayed for him, and would certainly not give thanks for his deliverance. Or it may simply indicate that he knew that ‘many’ were praying for him, and would thus have cause for thanksgiving.
The fact that this appears to look back to this gift as having in mind just one event would support our view of 2 Corinthians 1:10, for otherwise we might have expected Paul to apply their prayers more widely to past, present and future. It is, of course, possible that he sees ‘the gift’ as being continual. This would then indicate that he sees his continual deliverance from death as a ‘gift of grace’ and as due to their constant prayers, a gift for which also they will be able continually to give thanks. But if he saw his certainty of not dying the while as a gift of grace, would he then elsewhere put such stress on how he constantly faced death? It would destroy his whole argument. Its impact would be lost. We, and they, would argue that it was not consistent.
Thus on balance, and contrary to the majority view, we would see 2 Corinthians 1:10 as being soteriological because, to summarise;
1) It arises directly out of, and expands on, his reference to ‘God Who raises the dead’. To Paul that signalled victory over ‘death’ as the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26; 1 Corinthians 15:54-55) not just over earthly death. Thus God is seen as the One Who has delivered us from ‘so great a death’, by already giving resurrection life (2 Corinthians 2:16; 2Co 3:6 ; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; Romans 6:4; Romans 6:11; Romans 6:13; Ephesians 2:1-6; Galatians 2:20).
2) The phrase ‘so great a death’ suggests that he is speaking of more than just dying, in the light of the fact that to Paul it was ‘death’ that was the consequence of sin (Romans 1:32; Romans 5:10-21; Romans 6:23 compare 2 Timothy 1:10). As mentioned above, to Paul the whole future of the ‘unsaved’ world was that of ‘death’, ( 2Co 2:16 ; 2 Corinthians 3:7; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:22) which as far as the Christian was concerned would finally be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). Thus there is good reason for thinking that deliverance from ‘so great a death’ must rather have this in mind. As continually in his mind was the idea that ‘death’ was the final enemy from which all men needed deliverance, it is difficult to think of him viewing any example of physical death as ‘so great a death’. He might die but he did not have to face ‘so great a death’.
3) The repetition of future deliverance makes one of the references redundant if it is simply referring to deliverance from untimely death. It is in fact in context unnecessary (as copyists noticed). ‘He will deliver us’ covers the future, why then refer to it again? If however he sees deliverance from ‘death’ as referring to death as the wages of sin from which he will be continually delivered (Romans 7:24), followed by a great deliverance from the last enemy ‘death’ at the end as described in 1 Corinthians 15:0, it all falls into place.
4) It arises in a context where salvation (2 Corinthians 1:6), eschatalogical comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) and the day of our Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:14) are constantly there in the background.
5) It is similar to and expands on the ‘unexpected’ introduction of the idea of ‘salvation’ in 2 Corinthians 1:6.
6) It parallels the underlying idea behind ‘comfort’ as referring to God’s final purposes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 in bringing salvation and leads on into the day of our Lord Jesus in 2 Corinthians 1:14.
7) In it he speaks of the ‘setting of his hope’, an idea which constantly has in mind the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8; compare 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Ephesians 1:18), the hope of the second coming of Christ (Titus 2:13 compare 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:19) and the everlasting hope, the hope of eternal life (Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7 compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13; Colossians 1:5). In the light of this could Paul have said that he had ‘set his hope’ on merely not dying?
8) It gives greater significance to the reference to ‘the day of our Lord Jesus’ in 2 Corinthians 1:14 as being the future deliverance he has spoken of. That day is his hope (1 Thessalonians 2:19; compare 2 Corinthians 1:3). Our hope is that He will yet deliver us, and now here it is.
9) To so dwell on mere death to such an extent is not consonant with Paul’s view of his death elsewhere. Dying did not worry him, indeed he looked forward to it (2 Corinthians 5:6; Philippians 1:21-23). It was what death signified that was his prime concern. So the threat of death brought home to him the fact of deliverance from all that death meant, the deliverance from the greater death. Consider the total lack of emphasis on a physical death to be escaped from in 2 Corinthians 4:8-15, and compare 2 Corinthians 3:6.
10) It is supported by the fact that ‘the gift bestowed on us’ (2 Corinthians 1:11) seems to refer to one situation, not to a continuing chain of fear.
11) It brings out the full meaning of ‘God Who raises the dead’ rather than the phrase being almost trivialised as a metaphor. Could the one who wrote 1 Corinthians 15:0 have so trivialised the idea of God raising the dead? After such a phrase we would expect Paul to expand on it triumphantly, just as he regularly expands in flights of exultation after the expression of similar ideas elsewhere.
12) We can compare the idea here with 2 Corinthians 4:10-14 where their ‘dying’ and their being ‘delivered up to death’ (as in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9) results in life being manifested in their mortal bodies as they look forward to the final resurrection. Even in their dying they are delivered from death’s grip, from the greater death. Compare again 2Co 3:6 ; 2 Corinthians 7:10.
But why then did he not use the verb ‘save’ instead of ‘deliver’? The answer is because in context he is thinking of salvation in terms of deliverance from the enemies consisting of final death and Satan (1 Corinthians 15:25-26; Hebrews 2:14-15), not salvation from sin. Compare again Col 1:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
Thus we may see 2 Corinthians 1:10 as a triumphant expansion on the thought of ‘God Who raises the dead’.
He Declares That He Has Been Faithful To Them And To All (2 Corinthians 1:12-14 )
‘For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.’
Having established the fact of God’s great saving activity, and in return for their faithful prayers (2 Corinthians 1:11), he now wants them to be confident about the concern that he has for them. From a true conscience he ‘glories’ in how he has behaved towards the world, and especially ‘more abundantly’ towards them, in holiness and sincerity/purity of motive, a sincerity/purity of motive which he has put to the test before God and about which he has received clearance (‘of God’). And also in the grace of God rather than in fleshly wisdom. He is already indirectly rebutting the charge of fickleness found in 2 Corinthians 1:17, of ulterior motives (see 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2) and of dishonesty (2 Corinthians 8:20; 2 Corinthians 12:14).
He wants them to know that he has carefully examined his conscience, and that it is absolutely clear. He has no doubts that the grace of God is at work through him, so that he acts through God’s wisdom and not his own, and that what he is doing is being done in holiness and sincerity, as one totally set apart to God and one who is genuine through and through. (Let them recognise this and ask if the same is true of his opponents). Would that we all did the same.
Note the contrast between ‘fleshly-wisdom’ and ‘divine-grace’ (grace of God). Paul is borne along, not by some doubtful ‘wisdom’ which is really of the flesh (a hit at his opponents, compare 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 2:13), but by the unmerited favour and activity of the living God, which is ‘of God’.
‘For we write no other things to you than what you read (anaginosko) or even understand (epignosko), and I hope you will understand (epiginosko) to the end (or ‘completely’), as also you understood (epiginosko) us in part, that we are your glorying, even as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.’
(epiginosko can mean - ‘apprehend and acknowledge, receive fully as true, have spiritual knowledge’). He speaks here partly against the charge that what he is like when he is with them is very different from how he is when he writes to them (2 Corinthians 10:1; 2 Corinthians 10:10).
What he has written, he stresses, means exactly what they are reading and apprehending, nothing more nor less. And he hopes that they will eventually understand completely, (or will understand to the end), what they at present apprehend from it partially. That is that Paul is the one in whom they will be glorying in the day of the Lord Jesus because they owe to him their knowledge of the truth, the message of salvation that they received, just as he will be glorying in them because of what the Gospel has accomplished in them. Furthermore they will be glorying because they will recognise that he brought it to them in sincerity and truth (just as he was glorying in 2 Corinthians 1:12 in his own sincerity and genuineness in taking it).
In other words he wants them to know that his written words have no hidden meaning, no duplicity, no hidden agenda. They do not have to read between the lines. What he has written down is precisely what he means, in spite of what some tell them. (This may in fact suggest that his opponents just could not understand his teaching). And that is why they will discover in the day of the Lord Jesus that their glorying will be in Paul and his fellow-workers, because they will recognise in that day, when all truth is revealed, that it was he who brought them the genuine truth sincerely and honestly and openly, and that Paul’s glorying will be in them because of what they will prove to be as a result of genuinely hearing his words. Thus they will know then that Paul was a genuine Apostle and that he brought them Apostolic truth, and he will know that they are genuine believers because they responded to that truth.
It need hardly be said that this is the standard by which all who would serve God must constantly test themselves.
‘In the day of our Lord Jesus.’ This is the day when Jesus Christ as Lord will Himself finalise His purposes on behalf of His people. In that day, ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’, those whom Christ has confirmed to the end will be presented to God blameless and unreproveable (1 Corinthians 1:8). It is the day when the spirit of those who are His will be saved in the ‘day of the Lord Jesus’ (1 Corinthians 5:5). It is the day when Paul hopes to have something to glory of ‘in the day of Christ’ (Philippians 2:16). It is the day when they will finally be delivered from the power of death (2 Corinthians 1:10). Thus it can be linked with the judgment seat (bema - tribunal) of God as referred to in Romans 14:10-12, or of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:10, when all that a Christian has done will be tested for its worth, whether it be good or bad, especially his ministry for Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), and everything will be laid bare, even the hidden things of darkness and the counsels of the heart, so that each might receive praise for what he has done which is worthy of such praise (1 Corinthians 4:5).
What glory will be ours when our accomplishments in His name and through His Spirit come out into the light. What shame will be ours when the shoddy work which results from our carelessness and unspirituality sees the light of day, and is despatched into the fire. And we will be the first to cry, ‘burn it up, it is not worthy’.
He Explains That The Change of Plans He Made Was Not Due To Fickleness
‘And in this confidence I was minded to come first to you, that you might have a second benefit, and by you to pass into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and of you to be set forward on my journey to Judea.’
It was because of his confidence in his message, and in their readiness to receive it, that originally he had intended to come to them before going to Macedonia, so that they might have the benefit (charis - something resulting from God’s grace) of a second visit. And then after going to Macedonia to return to them for a third visit, prior to going to Judea (among other things with the collection money for the poor in Judea - 1 Corinthians 16:1). Why then did he not do so?
In 2 Corinthians 1:23 he will tell them that it was in fact to spare them in the light of what he would have to say as a result of the way they had treated him. But first he feels that he must establish the question of fickleness theologically. He is shocked to think that they might see him, the bearer of the true Gospel, as fickle. Fickleness, he wants them to know, is in fact a stranger to him (as it should be to us) because of Whom he serves. For central to being a servant of God is to be reliable. Although he will then point out that, for those who serve God, their plans must always be thoughtfully carried through and be subject to His will.
‘Of you to be set forward.’ The verb indicates that they were to arrange his journey to Judea, sending companions with him to carry ‘the collection’ for the poor in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1), and making all provision for those who went with him. Acts 20:2-4 may suggest that this never happened, but Luke is not necessarily being exhaustive there about who accompanied Paul.
‘When I therefore was so minded, did I show fickleness? Or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be the yes, yes, and the no, no?’
Was then his failure to visit them in the way that he had promised due to ‘the fickleness’ (i.e. ‘the fickleness of which I am accused’)? Or was it because he made his decisions from his own selfish point of view (according to the flesh)? Is he the kind of person who keeps changing his mind saying ‘yes, yes’ and then ‘no, no’? The answer will now be a resounding ‘no’.
‘But as God is faithful, our word toward you is not yes and no. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timothy, was not yes and no, but in him is yes. For however many be the promises of God, in him is the yes, wherefore also through him is the Amen, to the glory of God through us.’
He denies utterly the suggestion that he is negative or fickle by pointing to the faithfulness of the God, with Whose word he comes and Whom he seeks to be like, and Who came in Jesus with a positive message, not one that was ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but that was ‘yes, yes’ and ‘Amen’. This then brings out the positiveness of Jesus, Whom Paul preached among them. He too was not ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
This is said not just in order to vindicate himself, but to vindicate the very message that he preaches. As certainly as God is faithful, so is his word faithful to them and not ‘yes’ and ‘no’, for he serves the faithful God (Deuteronomy 7:9; Isaiah 49:7) and brings His word. And just as certainly did God’s Son Jesus also have this faithfulness and this certainty, in that in Him also was ‘yes’. And he was preached by Paul, Silas and Timothy, so that they too were involved in His ‘yes’, and He was preached among them so that they might have experience of the power of Christ at work through Paul.
For however many were the promises of God, God’s Son Jesus Christ said ‘yes’ to them all. The whole of the Old Testament carried His backing. He was totally faithful to the promises of God, and confirmed that they would be fulfilled (see Matthew 5:18). So there is no failure in the faithfulness of God, or in His promises, or in Jesus Christ His Son. Nor would there be in those who proclaimed Him in power.
‘Wherefore also through him is the Amen, to the glory of God through us.’ So through God’s Son Jesus Christ everything that Paul proclaims (‘through us’), based as it is on His word, receives His ‘Amen’. It has His guarantee. It is sure and certain, thus bringing glory to God. And that is why the church can say ‘Amen’ to it all. Indeed in Revelation John can say that Jesus is ‘the Amen’ as the faithful and true witness (Revelation 3:14). And that faithful and true witness is confirmed in His servants who proclaim His truth, who themselves proclaim the faithfulness of God, by the power revealed through them, such power that the testimony of Christ was confirmed in those who heard (1 Corinthians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 2:4). For he and his fellow-workers are so closely connected with God and with Christ that they cannot be but faithful. They are imitators of God and of Christ, from whom they receive their power in their ministry.
‘Our word towards you is not yes and no.’ For their word is the word of the faithful God, it is the word of God’s Son Jesus Christ, to Whom all was ‘yes’, with Whom there is no ‘no’. And this word will be reflected in all the words they speak, whether in preaching or in promises. Thus there can be no fickleness in them.
For however many promises of God there are, God’s Son Jesus Christ says ‘yes’ to them all. And in the same way when He is acting through them it is with the ‘Amen’, to the glory of God. For they come in Christ’s name under Christ’s lordship, and through Him there can only be ‘Amen’ (let it be so) in the things of God.
‘Who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timothy.’ He, Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy had all preached among them ‘the Son of God, Jesus Christ’. The use of ‘Son of God’ here is the more directly to connect Jesus Christ to the God Who is faithful. Could those who preached such a One with such power themselves be fickle?
‘Now he who is establishing (‘is confirming’) us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God, who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.’
And this is confirmed by the fact of Who has established them, and how He has done it. Let them recognise Who it is Who is ‘confirming’, vindicating and authorising, he and his fellow-workers to them For he and his fellow-workers are, like the Corinthians themselves (‘with you’), God’s men, firmly being established (being confirmed) in Christ, just as they are. And let the Corinthians remember that their own being established (being confirmed) in Christ owes much to Paul (1 Corinthians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 1:8). And it is this same faithful God who has anointed them all and has also sealed them, and given them the earnest of the Spirit in their hearts.
The idea behind ‘anointing’ is essentially that of being set aside by God for His service. In the Old Testament kings, priests and prophets were all anointed. But it was only in certain specific cases that it resulted in the coming of the Spirit of God. Interestingly there is never any suggestion that priestly anointing resulted in the coming of the Spirit. That was for ‘the prophets’ (Numbers 11:29). The two ideas were therefore not necessarily parallel. Anointing and the coming of the Spirit of God are two separate ideas, even if the second did sometimes follow the first, and with Christians will occur together.
So here the anointing is the indication of their all being separated to the service for God, and as having received His truth so that they are able to discern it truly (1 John 2:20). That is why they have an anointing. While their being sealed, and thus confirmed as God’s, by reception of ‘the earnest of the Spirit’ in their hearts, is confirmation that they belong to God, and are sealed as His personal possession. The earnest of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of what is theirs and of what is to come.
An earnest is a ‘sample’ of something that is promised, guaranteeing both the fact and the quality of what is to come. (When a trader had made a sale for future delivery he would often give a sample of the goods as evidence of the sale and as a guarantee of what the whole consignment would be like. It was called an ‘earnest’). So is the Spirit in their hearts God’s guarantee that they are His, and a sample of what they will be and will receive in the consummation, when God is all in all.
It is made clear that these blessings are elsewhere received by all who become Christians. An anointing which makes sure to them the truth is described in 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27; the sealing is described in Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30 as signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit of promise and the guarantee of their partaking in the day of redemption, and the earnest of the Spirit is described as the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession (Ephesians 1:14).
So Paul is here linking he and his fellow-workers with the Corinthian Christians as fellow participants in the grace of God. They are all one in being set apart by Him and in being partakers in the sealing by, and work of, the Holy Spirit (compare 1 Corinthians 12:13). Let there therefore be no more division.
Some note here the trinitarian element which so constantly appears in Paul (compare 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). The work of the Godhead is carried forward by, in this case, the faithful God, ‘God’s Son’ and by the Holy Spirit. For we must not forget that the Son is ‘born of’ (is of the same essential nature as) the Father (John 1:14) and the Spirit ‘proceeds’ from the Father (John 15:26), is of His essence. Note in this verse that ‘God’ is specifically revealed as faithful, and was not ‘yes’ and ‘no’, in precisely the way that was revealed in the actions of God’s Son, which are thus seen as His actions. In all they do the two are one.
It should be noted, as against some, that none of these blessings are ever directly connected with baptism in the New Testament so that there are no grounds for linking them directly with baptism here, even though the later church, as it became more formal, would make the link. Clearly baptism would outwardly indicate those who had previously experienced these things, indeed in the early days would follow immediately after as an indication that they were Spirit endued. But in the early days the reception of the Spirit was rather indicated more visibly in the power and joy that came on them (Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5; Acts 13:52). In Acts this sometimes came before baptism, sometimes at baptism, and sometimes after baptism. But in all cases the Spirit had been at work first. Paul trusted in the word of the cross in power as the saving agent, not baptism (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).
Paul Explains His Reasons For What He Has Done And Calls For Leniency On The One Who Had Sinned And Has Now Repented (2 Corinthians 1:23 to 2 Corinthians 2:11 ).
Paul now explains why he had changed his travel plans after his hurtful visit and then explains the subsequent severe letter he had had to send to them. Both these events had seemingly happened after he had written 1 Corinthians. And then he gives further instructions because of how great had been the effect of his severe letter. He did not want anything to be taken too far.
In 1 Corinthians, while he had had to rebuke, it had been in expectation of things being put right without too much difficulty, so that he had not anticipated that it would put a barrier in the way of his visiting them for a goodly period. But when he had subsequently paid them a quick visit it had turned out to be a very hurtful one, for someone had raised the church up in opposition against him, so much so that he had felt it best to leave Corinth immediately and deal with the matter by a severe and strong letter, rather than by having an open and possibly permanently damaging confrontation.
What the further trouble was is open to interpretation. What seems clear is that one person was mainly behind it all (2 Corinthians 1:5-7), and that somehow he had managed temporarily to get a good proportion of the church (or of one particular house church which Paul visited) on his side. The result was that when Paul had made his surprise visit to Corinth, that person, supported by other members of the church, had made hurtful and spiteful accusations against him, presumably with ‘here, here’ being heard in the background along with a lot of scowling faces, and had roused so much ill feeling that Paul had felt it best to withdraw quickly in order to preserve the peace and unity of the church.
The accusations presumably included the fact of his supposed fickleness in not visiting them when he had promised to, probably stirred up by clever manipulation, and possibly included the fact that now he had come it was only for a quick visit, and not the long stay he had promised. The suggestion was therefore probably made that it demonstrated that he was both unreliable and dishonest. This might have especially affected those who had seen themselves as the primary targets of 1 Corinthians.
The main person who had opposed him might well have been someone who was concerned to gain pre-eminence, and had won some adherents, and did not want Paul’s interference. Possibly it was he, along with some of those who saw themselves as super-spiritual, who stressed that Paul’s weakness, and appearance, and sufferings, demonstrated that he was not really an Apostle of God. But even the less antagonistic members might well have been upset that now that he had come he had said that it was only for a short visit, and thus have joined in the dissatisfaction against Paul.
A less sensitive Apostle might, after consideration of what was happening, have remained so as to demonstrate that his authority could not be questioned, without having regard for the long term effects, concerned more for their own reputation than the food of the church. But Paul was not like that. He was not concerned about his hurt pride, or his position for its own sake. All he took into account was the long term benefit of the church. And he had therefore immediately left Corinth because he had felt that that could not be achieved at this time by harsh personal action, or fighting his corner in person, leaving long term hurt all round. He had recognised that it must be dealt with in another way. Present feeling was running too high.
At which point he had sent a severe letter, the severe letter which he will now refer to, which turned out to be so successful that he has to advise leniency towards the person involved.
‘But I call God for a witness on my soul, that to spare you I forbore coming to Corinth.’
So why then had Paul failed in his promise to come to Corinth? He calls on God to witness to the truth of what he says. It was in order to spare them what would have resulted from his arrival had he come in person. He had felt that the result he desired was better achieved by his severe letter (2 Corinthians 2:1-4) and the arrival of Titus among them.
That he felt it necessary to make such an oath shows how difficult the position was. He clearly felt that it overrode the Lord’s teaching that oaths should be avoided in normal relationships. Here it was necessary because it was important for the sake of the Gospel to establish the facts without doubt. He wanted them to know that there really was no other reason for his absence than that he had wanted to spare them sorrow.
‘On my soul’ probably simply means ‘on me’, that is, ‘on what I speak from my inner heart’. Although some see it as indicating something stronger, ‘on my very life’.
In other words he did not want them to be left with the impression that that the reason that he had not come was because he was sulking, or because he was so angry that he wanted nothing to do with them. And a mild explanation at this point might have left them with just such a feeling, and with the idea that his explanation was just an excuse and that he was just being devious. So he was concerned that they did recognise that he was being honest and that that was the true reason, so he confirmed it by this mild oath.
But what does he mean by ‘spare you’? The probability is that he had recognised that he might have to speak very severely about the person in question, and those who were supporting him, in the presence of the whole church, which might have left a longstanding sense of grievance among them. Some might even have been brought in to the situation who were not really to blame, and who might well have been caught in the cross fire, leaving a further trail of resentment. Much misunderstanding might have arisen. This would then have been a hindrance to his future ministry among them. On the other hand his view had been that an Apostolic letter, and a visit by Titus who was clearly not directly involved, would not be taken so personally, and would hopefully strike at the right targets, leaving the way open for a further visit by him.
(That we do not have more details is annoying for the commentator, but it is actually for the good of the church due to the thousands of church situations to which it can be applied, thus giving church leaders an example of unselfish pastoring to go by and to imitate).
‘Not that we have lordship over your faith, but are helpers of your joy. For in faith you stand fast.’
He wants them further to know that he is not suggesting that their faith depended on this, nor that he feels that he has the right to criticise their faith. That is between them and God. (He is not talking about the content of their faith, but the genuineness of it). And besides he knows that their faith is firm, that they stand fast in faith. But rather it was in order to establish their joy and ensure peace among them. It was the harmony and contentment of the church that he was concerned about.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25