Survey of 2 Corinthians

Book Type: The New Testament’s third Pauline Epistle; the eighth book of the New Testament; the forty-seventh book of the Bible.

Author: Paul, along with Timothy, as noted in 2 Corinthians 1:1. Timothy may have been serving as Paul’s amanuensis, writing down words in a manner similar to that of a secretary.

Audience: Paul wrote to Gentile Christians living in Corinth, sending this letter a few years after personally founding the church in that city. Paul had also written at least one other known previous letter to this church: the epistle of 1 Corinthians. It is also possible that Paul wrote at least one other letter to this church, which is no longer in existence (1 Corinthians 5:9). These believers had responded positively to Paul’s previous writing, yet appeared to continue to have some problems, particularly in the area of false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13).

Date: AD 55—56, within a year of the completion of 1 Corinthians.

Overview: Second Corinthians includes thirteen chapters which address four major sections. After a brief greeting in 2 Corinthians 1:1¬–11, Paul shifts attention to a discussion of his own ministry (2 Corinthians 1:12—7:16). He addresses his personal plans in chapter 1, followed by addressing a particular “offender” in 2 Corinthians 2:5–11. In 2 Corinthians 2:12—6:13 Paul addresses various aspects of his ministry, especially emphasizing the many trials he had faced (2 Corinthians 4:8–18) and his faithful conduct (2 Corinthians 6:1–13). Paul encourages these believers to live distinctly from unbelievers, including in marriage relationships (2 Corinthians 6:14–18). Paul then discusses the difference between worldly, despairing grief, and “godly sorrow,” which ultimately leads a person closer to God (2 Corinthians 7:1–16).

The second section discusses a particular financial gift Paul had previously planned with the Corinthian believers. He began with the pattern of the Macedonian believers (2 Corinthians 8:1–7), including notes on the purpose of the gift and various details regarding how to prepare their gifts (2 Corinthians 8:8—9:5). Second Corinthians 9:6–15 provides encouraging teaching on God’s promises concerning their gifts.

The third section transitions toward Paul’s authority as an apostle (2 Corinthians 10:1—12:13). Both his authority and life gave him a unique role in the lives of the Corinthian believers. He introduced the gospel to them, founded their church, and had suffered on their behalf (2 Corinthians 11:16–33). He further reminds them of his visions and thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12).

The fourth section briefly notes plans concerning Paul’s upcoming visit (2 Corinthians 12:14—13:14). This passage includes various warnings (2 Corinthians 12:19—13:10), as well as a closing prayer of blessing on behalf of the Corinthian believers (2 Corinthians 13:11–14).

Key Verses (ESV):

2 Corinthians 3:5: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”

2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

2 Corinthians 13:4: “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.”





Translated with an Introduction and Interpretation




Revised Edition Copyright (c) 1975 William Barclay

First published by The Saint Andrew Press Edinburgh, Scotland

First Edition, May, 1954

Second Edition, September, 1956

Published by The Westminster Press (R)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Bible. N.T. Corinthians. English. Barclay. 1975.
The letters to the Corinthians.
(The Daily study Bible series. — Rev. ed.)
1. Bible. N.T. Corinthians — Commentaries. I. Barcl
ay, William, lecturer in the University of Glasgow. II. Title. III. Series.
BS2673.B37 1975 227′.2’077 75-26563
ISBN 0-664-21308-1
ISBN 0-664-24108-5 pbk.


The Daily Study Bible series has always had one aim–to convey the results of scholarship to the ordinary reader. A. S. Peake delighted in the saying that he was a “theological middleman”, and I would be happy if the same could be said of me in regard to these volumes. And yet the primary aim of the series has never been academic. It could be summed up in the famous words of Richard of Chichester’s prayer–to enable men and women “to know Jesus Christ more clearly, to love him more dearly, and to follow him more nearly”.

It is all of twenty years since the first volume of The Daily Study Bible was published. The series was the brain-child of the late Rev. Andrew McCosh, M.A., S.T.M., the then Secretary and Manager of the Committee on Publications of the Church of Scotland, and of the late Rev. R. G. Macdonald, O.B.E., M.A., D.D., its Convener.

It is a great joy to me to know that all through the years The Daily Study Bible has been used at home and abroad, by minister, by missionary, by student and by layman, and that it has been translated into many different languages. Now, after so many printings, it has become necessary to renew the printer’s type and the opportunity has been taken to restyle the books, to correct some errors in the text and to remove some references which have become outdated. At the same time, the Biblical quotations within the text have been changed to use the Revised Standard Version, but my own original translation of the New Testament passages has been retained at the beginning of each daily section.

There is one debt which I would be sadly lacking in courtesy if I did not acknowledge. The work of revision and correction has been done entirely by the Rev. James Martin, M.A., B.D., minister of High Carntyne Church, Glasgow. Had it not been for him this task would never have been undertaken, and it is impossible for me to thank him enough for the selfless toil he has put into the revision of these books.

It is my prayer that God may continue to use The Daily Study Bible to enable men better to understand His word.



General Introduction

A General Introduction to the Letters of Paul


Introduction to the Letters to the Corinthians



Comforted to Comfort (2 Cor. 1:1-7)
Driven Back on God (2 Cor. 1:8-11)
Our Only Boast (2 Cor. 1:12-14)
God’s Yes in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:15-22)
When a Saint Rebukes (2 Cor. 1:23-2:4)
Pleading for a Sinner’s Pardon (2 Cor. 2:5-11)
In the Triumph of Christ (2 Cor. 2:12-17)
Each Man a Letter of Christ (2 Cor. 3:1-3)
The Surpassing Glory (2 Cor. 3:4-11)
The Veil which Hides the Truth (2 Cor. 3:12-18)
The Blinded Eye (2 Cor. 4:1-6)
Tribulation and Triumph (2 Cor. 4:7-15)
The Secret of Endurance (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
Joy and Judgment to Come (2 Cor. 5:1-10)
The New Creation (2 Cor. 5:11-19)
Ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20-6:2)
A Blizzard of Troubles (2 Cor. 6:3-10)
The Accent of Love (2 Cor. 6:11-13; 1 Cor. 7:2-4)
Get You Out! (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1)
Godly Sorrow and Godly Joy (2 Cor. 7:5-16)
An Appeal for Generosity (2 Cor. 8:1-15)
Practical Arrangements (2 Cor. 8:16-24)
The Willing Giver (2 Cor. 9:1-5)
The Principles of Generosity (2 Cor. 9:6-15)
Paul Begins to Answer His Critics (2 Cor. 10:1-6)
Paul Continues to Answer His Critics (2 Cor. 10:7-18)
The Peril of Seduction (2 Cor. 11:1-6)
Masquerading as Christians (2 Cor. 11:7-15) The Credentials of an Apostle (2 Cor. 11:16-33)
The Thorn and the Grace (2 Cor. 12:1-10)
The Defence Draws to an End (2 Cor. 12:11-18)
The Marks of an Unchristian Church (2 Cor. 1 2:19-21)
A Warning, a Wish, a Hope, and a Blessing (2 Cor. 13)
Further Reading



There is no more interesting body of documents in the New Testament than the letters of Paul. That is because of all forms of literature a letter is most personal. Demetrius, one of the old Greek literary critics, once wrote, “Every one reveals his own soul in his letters. In every other form of composition it is possible to discern the writer’s character, but in none so clearly as the epistolary.” (Demetrius, On Style, 227). It is just because he left us so many letters that we feel we know Paul so well. In them he opened his mind and heart to the folk he loved so much; and in them, to this day, we can see that great mind grappling with the problems of the early church, and feel that great heart throbbing with love for men, even when they were misguided and mistaken.


At the same time, there is often nothing so difficult to understand as a letter. Demetrius (On Style, 223) quotes a saying of Artemon, who edited the letters of Aristotle. Artemon said that a letter ought to be written in the same manner as a dialogue, because it was one of the two sides of a dialogue. In other words, to read a letter is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. So when we read the letters of Paul we are often in a difficulty. We do not possess the letter which he was answering; we do not fully know the circumstances with which he was dealing; it is only from the letter itself that we can deduce the situation which prompted it. Before we can hope to understand fully any letter Paul wrote, we must try to reconstruct the situation which produced it.


It is a great pity that Paul’s letters were ever called epistles. They are in the most literal sense letters. One of the great lights shed on the interpretation of the New Testament has been the discovery and the publication of the papyri. In the ancient world, papyrus was the substance on which most documents were written. It was composed of strips of the pith of a certain bulrush that grew on the banks of the Nile. These strips were laid one on top of the other to form a substance very like brown paper. The sands of the Egyptian desert were ideal for preservation, for papyrus, although very brittle, will last forever so long as moisture does not get at it. As a result, from the Egyptian rubbish heaps, archaeologists have rescued hundreds of documents, marriage contracts, legal agreements, government forms, and, most interesting of all, private letters. When we read these private letters we find that there was a pattern to which nearly all conformed; and we find that Paul’s letters reproduce exactly that pattern. Here is one of these ancient letters. It is from a soldier, called Apion, to his father Epimachus. He is writing from Misenum to tell his father that he has arrived safely after a stormy passage.

“Apion sends heartiest greetings to his father and lord Epimachus. I pray above all that you are well and fit; and that things are going well with you and my sister and her daughter and my brother. I thank my Lord Serapis [his god] that he kept me safe when I was in peril on the sea. As soon as I got to Misenum I got my journey money from Caesar–three gold pieces. And things are going fine with me. So I beg you, my dear father, send me a line, first to let me know how you are, and then about my brothers, and thirdly, that I may kiss your hand, because you brought me up well, and because of that I hope, God willing, soon to be promoted. Give Capito my heartiest greetings, and my brothers and Serenilla and my friends. I sent you a little picture of myself painted by Euctemon. My military name is Antonius Maximus, I pray for your good health. Serenus sends good wishes, Agathos Daimon’s boy, and Turbo, Gallonius’ son.” (G. Milligan, Selections from the Greek Papyri, 36). 

Little did Apion think that we would be reading his letter to his father 1800 years after he had written it. It shows how little human nature changes. The lad is hoping for promotion quickly. Who will Serenilla be but the girl he left behind him? He sends the ancient equivalent of a photograph to the folk at home. Now that letter falls into certain sections. (i) There is a greeting. (ii) There is a prayer for the health of the recipients. (iii) There is a thanksgiving to the gods. (iv) There are the special contents. (v) Finally, there are the special salutations and the personal greetings. Practically every one of Paul’s letters shows exactly the same sections, as we now demonstrate.

(i) The Greeting: Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Php. 1:1; Col. 1:1-2; 1Th. 1:1; 2Th. 1:1.

(ii) The Prayer: in every case Paul prays for the grace of God on the people to whom he writes: Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Php. 1:3; Col. 1:2; 1Th. 1:1; 2Th. 1:2.

(ill) The Thanksgiving: Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; Php. 1:3; 1Th. 1:3; 2Th. 1:3.

(iv) The Special Contents: the main body of the letters.

(v) Special Salutations and Personal Greetings: Rom. 16; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Cor. 13:13; Php. 4:21-22; Col. 4:12-15; 1Th. 5:26.

When Paul wrote letters, he wrote them on the pattern which everyone used. Deissmann says of them, “They differ from the messages of the homely papyrus leaves of Egypt, not as letters but only as the letters of Paul.” When we read Paul’s letters we are not reading things which were meant to be academic exercises and theological treatises, but human documents written by a friend to his friends.


With a very few exceptions, all Paul’s letters were written to meet an immediate situation and not treatises which he sat down to write in the peace and silence of his study. There was some threatening situation in Corinth, or Galatia, or Philippi, or Thessalonica, and he wrote a letter to meet it. He was not in the least thinking of us when he wrote, but solely of the people to whom he was writing. Deissmann writes, “Paul had no thought of adding a few fresh compositions to the already extant Jewish epistles; still less of enriching the sacred literature of his nation…. He had no presentiment of the place his words would occupy in universal history; not so much that they would be in existence in the next generation, far less that one day people would look at them as Holy Scripture.” We must always remember that a thing need not be transient because it was written to meet an immediate situation. All the great love songs of the world were written for one person, but they live on for the whole of mankind. It is just because Paul’s letters were written to meet a threatening danger or a clamant need that they still throb with life. And it is because human need and the human situation do not change that God speaks to us through them today.


One other thing we must note about these letters. Paul did what most people did in his day. He did not normally pen his own letters but dictated them to a secretary, and then added his own authenticating signature. (We actually know the name of one of the people who did the writing for him. In Rom.16:22 Tertius, the secretary, slips in his own greeting before the letter draws to an end). In 1 Cor.16:21 Paul says, “This is my own signature, my autograph, so that you can be sure this letter comes from me.” (compare Col.4:18; 2Th.3:17.)

This explains a great deal. Sometimes Paul is hard to understand, because his sentences begin and never finish; his grammar breaks down and the construction becomes involved. We must not think of him sitting quietly at a desk, carefully polishing each sentence as he writes. We must think of him striding up and down some little room, pouring out a torrent of words, while his secretary races to get them down. When Paul composed his letters, he had in his mind’s eye a vision of the folk to whom he was writing, and he was pouring out his heart to them in words that fell over each other in his eagerness to help.



A glance at the map will show that Corinth was made for greatness. The southern part of Greece is very nearly an island. On the west the Corinthian Gulf deeply indents the land and on the east the Saronic Gulf. All that is left to join the two parts of Greece together is a little isthmus only four miles across. On that narrow neck of land Corinth stands. Such a position made it inevitable that it should be one of the greatest trading and commercial centres of the ancient world. All traffic from Athens and the north of Greece to Sparta and the Peloponnese had to be routed through Corinth, because it stood on the little neck of land that connected the two.

Not only did the north to south traffic of Greece pass through Corinth of necessity, by far the greater part of the east to west traffic of the Mediterranean passed through her from choice. The extreme southern tip of Greece was known as Cape Malea (now called Cape Matapan). It was dangerous, and to round Cape Malea had much the same sound as to round Cape Horn had in later times. The Greeks had two sayings which showed what they thought of it–“Let him who sails round Malea forget his home,” and, “Let him who sails round Malea first make his will.” 

The consequence was that mariners followed one of two courses. They sailed up the Saronic Gulf, and, if their ships were small enough, dragged them out of the water, set them on rollers, hauled them across the isthmus, and re-launched them on the other side. The isthmus was actually called the Diolkos, the place of dragging across. The idea is the same as that which is contained in the Scottish place name Tarbert, which means a place where the land is so narrow that a boat can be dragged from loch to loch. If that course was not possible because the ship was too large, the cargo was disembarked, carried by porters across the isthmus, and re-embarked on another ship at the other side. This four mile journey across the isthmus, where the Corinth Canal now runs, saved a journey of two hundred and two miles round Cape Malea, the most dangerous cape in the Mediterranean.

It is easy to see how great a commercial city Corinth must have been. The north to south traffic of Greece had no alternative but to pass through her; by far the greater part of the east to west trade of the Mediterranean world chose to pass through her. Round Corinth there clustered three other towns, Lechaeum at the west end of the isthmus, Cenchrea at the east end and Schoenus just a short distance away. Farrar writes, “Objects of luxury soon found their way to the markets which were visited by every nation in the civilized world–Arabian balsam, Phoenician dates, Libyan ivory, Babylonian carpets, Cilician goats’ hair, Lycaonian wool, Phrygian slaves.”

Corinth, as Farrar calls her, was the Vanity Fair of the ancient world. Men called her The Bridge of Greece; one called her The Lounge of Greece. It has been said that if a man stands long enough in Piccadilly Circus he will in the end meet everyone in the country. Corinth was the Piccadilly Circus of the Mediterranean. To add to the concourse which came to it, Corinth was the place where the Isthmian Games were held, which were second only to the Olympics. Corinth was a rich and populous city with one of the greatest commercial trades in the ancient world.


There was another side to Corinth. She had a reputation for commercial prosperity, but she was also a byword for evil living. The very word korinthiazesthai, to live like a Corinthian, had become a part of the Greek language, and meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery. The word actually penetrated to the English language, and, in Regency times, a Corinthian was one of the wealthy young bucks who lived in reckless and riotous living. Aelian, the late Greek writer, tells us that if ever a Corinthian was shown upon the stage in a Greek play he was shown drunk. The very name Corinth was synonymous with debauchery and there was one source of evil in the city which was known all over the civilized world. Above the isthmus towered the hill of the Acropolis, and on it stood the great temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. To that temple there were attached one thousand priestesses who were sacred prostitutes, and in the evenings they descended from the Acropolis and plied their trade upon the streets of Corinth, until it became a Greek proverb, “It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.” In addition to these cruder sins, there flourished far more recondite vices, which had come in with the traders and the sailors from the ends of the earth, until Corinth became not only a synonym for wealth and luxury, drunkenness and debauchery, but also for filth.


The history of Corinth falls into two parts. She was a very ancient city. Thucydides, the Greek historian, claims that it was in Corinth that the first triremes, the Greek battleships, were built. Legend has it that it was in Corinth that the Argo was built, the ship in which Jason sailed the seas, searching for the golden fleece. But in 146 B.C. disaster befell her. The Romans were engaged in conquering the world. When they sought to reduce Greece, Corinth was the leader of the opposition. But the Greeks could not stand against the disciplined Romans, and in 146 B.C. Lucius Mummius, the Roman general, captured Corinth and left her a desolate heap of ruins.

But any place with the geographical situation of Corinth could not remain a devastation. Almost exactly one hundred years later, in 46 B.C. Julius Caesar rebuilt her and she arose from her ruins. Now she became a Roman colony. More, she became a capital city, the metropolis of the Roman province of Achaea, which included practically all Greece.

In those days, which were the days of Paul, her population was very mixed. (i) There were the Roman veterans whom Julius Caesar had settled there. When a Roman soldier had served his time, he was granted the citizenship and was then sent out to some newly-founded city and given a grant of land so that he might become a settler there. These Roman colonies were planted all over the world, and always the backbone of them was the contingent of veteran regular soldiers whose faithful service had won them the citizenship. (ii) When Corinth was rebuilt the merchants came back, for her situation still gave her commercial supremacy. (iii) There were many Jews among the population. The rebuilt city offered them commercial opportunities which they were not slow to take. (iv) There was a sprinkling of Phoenicians and Phrygians and people from the east, with their exotic customs and their hysterical ways. Farrar speaks of “this mongrel and heterogeneous population of Greek adventurers and Roman bourgeois, with a tainting infusion of Phoenicians; this mass of Jews, ex-soldiers, philosophers, merchants, sailors, freedmen, slaves, trades-people, hucksters and agents of every form of vice.” He characterizes her as a colony “without aristocracy, without traditions and without well-established citizens.”

Remember the background of Corinth, remember its name for wealth and luxury, for drunkenness and immorality and vice, and then read 1 Cor.6:9-10.

Are you not aware that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Make no mistake–neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sensualists, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor rapacious men, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor robbers shall inherit the Kingdom of God–and such were some of you.

In this hotbed of vice, in the most unlikely place in all the Greek world, some of Paul’s greatest work was done, and some of the mightiest triumphs of Christianity were won.


Paul stayed longer in Corinth than in any other city, with the single exception of Ephesus. He had left Macedonia with his life in peril and had crossed over to Athens. There he had had little success and had gone on to Corinth, and he remained there for eighteen months. We realize how little we really know of his work when we see that the whole story of that eighteen months is compressed by Luke into 17 verses (Ac.18:1-17).

When Paul arrived in Corinth he took up residence with Aquila and Prisca. He preached in the synagogue with great success. With the arrival of Timothy and Silas from Macedonia, he redoubled his efforts, but the Jews were so stubbornly hostile that he had to leave the synagogue. He took up his residence with one Justus who lived next door to the synagogue. His most notable convert was Crispus, who was actually the ruler of the synagogue, and amongst the general public he had good success.

In the year A.D. 52 there came to Corinth as its new governor a Roman called Gallio. He was famous for his charm and gentleness. The Jews tried to take advantage of his newness and good nature and brought Paul to trial before him on a charge of teaching contrary to their law. But Gallio, with impartial Roman justice, refused to have anything to do with the case or to take any action. So Paul completed his work in Corinth and moved on to Syria.


It was when he was in Ephesus in the year A.D. 55 that Paul, learning that things were not all well in Corinth, wrote to the church there. There is every possibility that the Corinthian correspondence as we have it is out of order. We must remember that it was not until A.D. 90 or thereby that Paul’s correspondence was collected. In many churches it must have existed only on scraps of papyrus and the putting it together would be a problem: and it seems that, when the Corinthian letters were collected, they were not all discovered and were not arranged in the right order. Let us see if we can reconstruct what happened.

(i) There was a letter which preceded 1 Corinthians. In 1 Cor.5:9 Paul writes, “I wrote you a letter not to associate with immoral men.” This obviously refers to some previous letter. Some scholars believe that letter is lost without trace. Others think it is contained in 2 Cor.6:14-18 and 2 Cor.7:1. Certainly that passage suits what Paul said he wrote about. It occurs rather awkwardly in its context, and, if we take it out and read straight on from 2 Cor.6:13 to 2 Cor.7:2, we get excellent sense and connection. Scholars call this letter The Previous Letter. (In the original letters there were no chapter or verse divisions. The chapters were not divided up until the thirteenth century and the verses not till the sixteenth, and because of that the arranging of the collection of letters would be much more difficult).

(ii) News came to Paul from various sources of trouble at Corinth. (a) News came from those who were of the household of Chloe (1 Cor.1:11). They brought news of the contentions with which the church was torn. (b) News came with the visit of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus to Ephesus. (1 Cor.16:17). By personal contact they were able to fill up the gaps in Paul’s information. (c) News came in a letter in which the Corinthian Church had asked Paul’s; guidance on various problems. In 1 Cor.7:1 Paul begins, “Concerning the matters about which you wrote…” In answer to all this information Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and despatched it to Corinth apparently by the hand of Timothy (1 Cor.4:17).

(iii) The result of the letter was that things became worse than ever, and, although we have no direct record of it, we can deduce that Paul paid a personal visit to Corinth. In 2 Cor.12:14 he writes, “The third time I am ready to come to you.” In 2 Cor.13:1-2, he says again that he is coming to them for the third time. Now, if there was a third time, there must have been a second time. We have the record of only one visit, whose story is told in Ac.18:1-17. We have no record at all of the second, but Corinth was only two or three days’ sailing from Ephesus.

(iv) The visit did no good at all. Matters were only exacerbated and the result was an exceedingly severe letter. We learn about that letter from certain passages in 2 Corinthians. In 2 Cor.2:4 Paul writes, “I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.” In 2 Cor.7:8 he writes, “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it though I did regret it; for I see that that letter has grieved you, though only for a while.” It was a letter which was the product of anguish of mind, a letter so severe that Paul was almost sorry that he ever sent it.

Scholars call this The Severe Letter. Have we got it? It obviously cannot be I Corinthians, because it is not a tear-stained and anguished letter. When Paul wrote it, it is clear enough that things were under control. Now if we read through 2 Corinthians we find an odd circumstance. In 2 Cor.1-9 everything is made up, there is complete reconciliation and all are friends again; but at 2 Cor.10 comes the strangest break. 2 Cor.10-13 are the most heartbroken cry Paul ever wrote. They show that he has been hurt and insulted as he never was before or afterwards by any church. His appearance, his speech, his apostleship, his honesty have all been under attack.

Most scholars believe that 2 Cor.10-13 are the severe letter, and that they have become misplaced when Paul’s letters were put together. If we want the real chronological course of Paul’s correspondence with Corinth, we really ought to read 2 Cor.10-13 before 2 Cor.1-9. We do know that this letter was sent off with Titus. (2 Cor.2:13; 2 Cor.7:13).

(v) Paul was worried about this letter. He could not wait until Titus came back with an answer, so he set out to meet him (2 Cor.2:13; 2 Cor.7:5,13). Somewhere in Macedonia he met him and learned that all was well, and, probably at Philippi, he sat down and wrote 2 Cor.1-9, the letter of reconciliation.

Stalker has said that the letters of Paul take the roof off the early churches and let us see what went on inside. Of none of them is that truer than the letters to Corinth. Here we see what “the care of all the churches” must have meant to Paul. Here we see the heart-breaks and the joys. Here we see Paul, the shepherd of his flock, bearing the sorrows and the problems of his people on his heart.


Before we read the letters in detail let us set down the progress of the Corinthian correspondence in tabular form.

(i) The Previous Letter, which may be contained in 2 Cor.6:14-18 and 2 Cor.7:1.

(ii) The arrival of Chloe’s people, of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, and of the letter to Paul from the Corinthian Church.

(iii) 1 Corinthians is written in reply and is despatched with Timothy.

(iv) The situation grows worse and Paul pays a personal visit to Corinth, which is so complete a failure that it almost breaks his heart.

(v) The consequence is The Severe Letter, which is almost certainly contained in 2 Cor.10-13, and which was despatched with Titus.

(vi) Unable to wait for an answer, Paul sets out to meet Titus. He meets him in Macedonia, learns that all is well and, probably from Philippi, writes 2 Cor.1-9, The Letter of Reconciliation.

The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians deal with the divided state of the Church of God at Corinth. Instead of being a unity in Christ it was split into sects and parties, who had attached themselves to the names of various leaders and teachers. It is Paul’s teaching that these divisions had emerged because the Corinthians thought too much about human wisdom and knowledge and too little about the sheer grace of God. In fact, for all their so-called wisdom, they are really in a state of immaturity. They think that they are wise men, but really they are no better than babies.













2 Cor.1:1-7

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through God’s will, and Timothy, the brother you all know, send this letter to the Church of God which is at Corinth, together with all God’s dedicated people who are in the whole of Achaea. Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father who is ever compassionate and the God who sends all comfort, he who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we are able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through that comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For, even as the things which Christ had to suffer have overflowed to us, so the comfort which we can bring you also overflowed through Christ. If we are undergoing affliction it is that we may be the better able to comfort you and bring you salvation. If we are comforted, it is that we may be the better able to bring to you that comfort whose effectiveness is demonstrated by your ability triumphantly to endure the hard experiences which we also are going through. So our hope concerning you is well-grounded, for we know that just as you share the sufferings which we undergo, you also share the source of comfort we possess.

Behind this passage there is a kind of summary of the Christian life.

(i) Paul writes as a man who knows trouble to those who are in trouble. The word that he uses for affliction is thlipsis (GSN2347). In ordinary Greek this word always describes actual physical pressure on a man. R. C. Trench writes, “When, according to the ancient law of England, those who wilfully refused to plead had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and were so pressed and crushed to death, this was literally thlipsis (GSN2347).”

Sometimes there falls upon a man’s spirit the burden and the mystery of this unintelligible world. In the early years of Christianity the man who chose to become a Christian chose to face trouble. There might well come to him abandonment by his own family, hostility from his heathen neighbours, and persecution from the official powers. Samuel Rutherford wrote to one of his friends, “God has called you to Christ’s side, and the wind is now in Christ’s face in this land: and seeing ye are with him ye cannot expect the lee-side or the sunny side of the brae.” It is always a costly thing to be a real Christian, for there can be no Christianity without its cross.

(ii) The answer to this suffering lies in endurance. The Greek word for this endurance is hupomone (GSN5281). The keynote of hupomone is not grim, bleak acceptance of trouble but triumph. It describes the spirit which can not only accept suffering but triumph over it. Someone once said to a sufferer, “Suffering colours life, doesn’t it?” The sufferer replied, “Yes, but I propose to choose the colours” As the silver comes purer from the fire, so the Christian can emerge finer and stronger from hard days. The Christian is the athlete of God whose spiritual muscles become stronger from the discipline of difficulties.

(iii) But we are not left to face this trial and to provide this endurance alone. There comes to us the comfort of God. Between 2 Cor.1:3 and 2 Cor.1:7 the noun comfort or the verb to comfort occurs no fewer than nine times. Comfort in the New Testament always means far more than soothing sympathy. Always it is true to its root meaning, for its root is the Latin fortis and fortis means brave. Christian comfort is the comfort which brings courage and enables a man to cope with all that life can do to him. Paul was quite sure that God never sends a man a vision without the power to work it out and never sends him a task without the strength to do it.

Even apart from that, there is always a certain inspiration in any suffering which a man’s Christianity may incur, for such suffering, as Paul puts it, is the overflow of Christ’s suffering reaching to us. It is a sharing in the suffering of Christ. In the old days of chivalry, the knights used to come demanding some specially difficult task, in order that they might show their devotion to the lady whom they loved. To suffer for Christ is a privilege. When the hard thing comes, the Christian can say, as Polycarp, the aged Bishop of Smyrna, said when they bound him to the stake, “I thank thee that thou hast judged me worthy of this hour.”

(iv) The supreme result of all this is that we gain the power to comfort others who are going through it. Paul claims that the things which have happened to him and the comfort which he has received have made him able to be a source of comfort to others. Barrie tells how his mother lost her dearest son, and then he says, “That is where my mother got her soft eyes and why other mothers ran to her when they had lost a child.” It was said of Jesus, “Because he himself has gone through it, he is able to help others who are going through it.” (Heb.2:18). It is worth while experiencing suffering and sorrow if that experience will enable us to help others struggling with life’s billows.


2 Cor.1:8-11

I want you to know, brothers, about the terrible experience which happened to us in Asia, an experience in which we were excessively weighted down till it was beyond bearing, so that we despaired even of life. The only verdict we could give on our condition was the verdict of death; but this happened in order that we should not trust in ourselves but in the God who raises the dead. It was he who rescued us from so terrible a death, and who will rescue us. We hope in him that he will continue to rescue us, while you lend the help of your prayers for us, so that thanks on our behalf will be given from many faces and through many people for the gift of God’s grace which came to us.

The most extraordinary thing about this passage is that we have no information at all about this terrible experience which Paul went through at Ephesus. Something happened to him which was almost beyond bearing. He was in such danger that he believed that sentence of death had been passed on him and that there was no escape, and yet, beyond this passing reference and some others like it in these letters, we have no account of what happened.

There is a very human tendency to make the most of anything that we have to go through. Often a person who has undergone a quite simple operation will make it a subject of conversation for a long time to come. H. L. Gee tells of two men who met to transact some business in days of war. The one was full of how the train in which he had travelled had been attacked from the air. He would not stop talking about the excitement, the danger, the narrow escape. The other in the end said quietly, “Well, let’s get on with our business now. I’d like to get away fairly early because my house was demolished by a bomb last night.”

People who have really suffered usually do not talk about it very much. King George the Fifth had as one of his rules of life, “If I have to suffer let me be like a well-bred animal and go and suffer in silence and alone.” Paul made no parade of his sufferings, and we who have so much less to suffer should follow his example.

But Paul saw that the terrifying experience he had gone through had had one tremendous use–it had driven him back to God and demonstrated to him his utter dependence on him. The Arabs have a proverb, “All sunshine makes a desert.” The danger of prosperity is that it encourages a false independence; it makes us think that we are well able to handle life alone. For every one prayer that rises to God in days of prosperity, ten thousand rise in days of adversity. As Lincoln had it, “I have often been driven to my knees in prayer because I had nowhere else to go.” It is often in misfortune that a man finds out who are his true friends, and it often needs some time of adversity to show us how much we need God.

The outcome was that Paul had an unshakable confidence in God. He knew now beyond all argument what he could do for him. If God could bring him through that, he could bring him through anything. The joyful cry of the Psalmist is, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Ps.116:8.) What really converted John Bunyan was when he heard some old women sitting in the sun “talking about what God had done for their souls.” The confidence of the Christian in God is not a thing of theory and speculation; it is a thing of fact and experience. He knows what God has done for him and therefore he is not afraid.

Finally, Paul asks for the prayers of the Corinthians. As we have noted before, the greatest of the saints is not ashamed to ask for the prayers of the least of the brethren. We may have very little to give our friends; but, however little of this world’s goods we possess, we may give them the priceless treasure of our prayers.


2 Cor.1:12-14

The only boast we make is this–and it is backed by the witness of our conscience–that in the world we have behaved ourselves with the holiness and the purity of God, not with a wisdom dominated by human motives, but with the grace of God, and especially so towards you. We have written no other things to you than those which you read and understand, and I hope that you will go on to understand even their deepest meanings and significances, just as you have already understood them at least in part, because we are your boast, as you are ours, in the day of Christ.

Here we begin to catch the undertones of the accusations that the Corinthians were levelling against Paul and of the slanders with which they were trying to besmirch him.

(i) They must have been saying that there was more in Paul’s conduct than met the eye. His answer is that he has lived with the holiness and the purity of God. There were no hidden actions in Paul’s life. We might well add a new beatitude to the list, “Blessed is the man who has nothing to hide.” It is an old jest to tell of how a man went from door to door saying, “Flee! All is discovered!” and how the most unlikely people fled. It is said that once an architect offered to build a Greek philosopher a house so constructed that it would be impossible to see into it. “I will give you double your fee,” said the philosopher, “if you will build me a house into every room of which everyone can see.” The word Paul uses for purity (eilikrineia, GSN1505) is most interesting. It may describe something which can bear the test of being held up to the light of the sun and looked at with the sun shining through it. Happy is the man whose every action will bear the light of day and who, like Paul, can claim that there are no hidden actions in his life.

(ii) There were those who were attributing hidden motives to Paul. His answer is that his whole conduct is dominated, not by calculating shrewdness, but by the grace of God. There were no hidden motives in Paul’s life. Burns in another connection points out the difficulty of discovering “the moving why they did it.” If we are honest, we will have to admit that we seldom do anything with absolutely unmixed motives. Even when we do something fine, there may be entangled with it motives of prudence, of prestige, of self-display, of fear, of calculation. Men may never see these motives, but, as Thomas Aquinas said, “Man regardeth the deed but God seeth the intention.” Purity of action may be difficult, but purity of motive is still more difficult. Such purity can come to us only when we too can say that our old self has died and Christ lives in us.

(iii) There were those who said that Paul in his letters did not quite mean what he said. His answer was that there were no hidden meanings in his words. Words are odd things. A man may use them to reveal his thoughts or equally to conceal them. Few of us can honestly say that we mean to the full every word we say. We may say a thing because it is the right thing to say; we may say it for the sake of being agreeable; we may say it for the sake of avoiding trouble. James, who saw the dangers of the tongue more clearly than any man, said, “If any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man.” (Jas.3:2.)

In Paul’s life there were no hidden actions, no hidden motives and no hidden meanings. That is indeed something to aim at.


2 Cor.1:15-22

It was with this confidence that I previously planned to visit you, that I might bring you pleasure for the second time, and so go on to Macedonia by way of you, and be sped by you on my way to Judaea. So then, when I made this plan, surely you cannot think that I did so with a fickle intention? Or can you really think that when I make plans I make them as a worldly man might make them, so that I say yes and no at one and the same time? You can rely on God. You can be quite sure that the message we brought to you does not vacillate between yes and no. For God’s Son, Jesus Christ, he who was proclaimed among you through myself and Silvanus and Timothy, was not one who vacillated between yes and no. It was always yes with him. He is the yes to all the promises of God. That is why we can say, “Amen,” through him when we speak it to the glory of God. But it is God who guarantees you with us for Christ, the God who has anointed us and sealed us, and who has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first instalment and pledge of the life that shall be.

At first sight this is a difficult passage. Behind it lies another accusation and slander against Paul. Paul had said that he would visit the Corinthians, but the situation had become so bitter that he postponed his visit so as not to give them pain (2 Cor.1:23). His enemies had promptly accused him of being the kind of man who made frivolous promises with a fickle intention and could not be pinned down to a definite yes or no. That was bad enough, but they went on to argue, “If we cannot trust Paul’s everyday promises, how can we trust the things he told us about God?” Paul’s answer is that we can rely on God and that there is no vacillation in Jesus between yes and no.

Then he puts the matter in a vivid phrase–“Jesus is the yes to every promise of God.” He means this–had Jesus never come we might have doubted the tremendous promises of God, might have argued that they were too good to be true. But a God who loves us so much that he gave us his Son is quite certain to fulfil every promise that he ever made. He is the personal guarantee of God that the greatest and the least of his promises are all true.

Although the Corinthians were slandering Paul, there remains this salutary truth–the trustworthiness of the messenger affects the trustworthiness of the message. Preaching is always “truth through personality.” And if a man cannot trust the preacher, he is not likely to trust the preacher’s message. Amongst the Jewish regulations regarding the conduct and character of a teacher, it is laid down that he must never promise anything to a class which be cannot or will not do. This would be to accustom the class to falsehood. Here is a warning that promises should never be lightly given, for they may well be as lightly broken. Before a man gives a promise, he should count the cost of keeping it and make sure that he is able and willing to pay it.

Paul goes on to say two great things.

(i) It is through Jesus that we say “Amen” to the promises of God. We finish our prayers by saying, “through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” When we have read scripture we frequently conclude it by saying, “Amen.” Amen means So let it be, and the great truth is that it is not just a formality and a bit of ritual; it is the word that expresses our confidence that we can offer our prayers with every confidence to God and can appropriate with confidence all his great promises, because Jesus is the guarantee that our prayers will be heard and that all the great promises are true.

(ii) Finally, Paul speaks about what the King James Version calls the earnest of the Spirit. The Greek word is arrabon (GSN0728). And an arrabon was the first instalment of a payment, paid as a guarantee that the rest was sure to follow. It is a common word in Greek legal documents. A woman selling a cow receives 1,000 drachmae as arrabon (GSN0728) that the rest of the purchase price will be paid. Some dancing girls being engaged for a village festival receive so much as arrabon (GSN0728), which will be included in the final payment, but which is a present guarantee that the contract will be honoured and the full money paid. A certain man writes to his master that he has paid Lampon, the mouse-catcher, an arrabon of 8 drachmae so that he will start work and catch the mice while they are still with young. It was the first instalment and the guarantee that the rest would be paid. Everyone knew this word. It is the same idea as is in the Scots word arles which was a token payment made when a man was employed or a house bought, and a guarantee that the full contract would be honoured. When Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as an arrabon (GSN0728) given us by God, he means that the kind of life we live by the help of the Holy Spirit is the first instalment of the life of heaven and the guarantee that the fullness of that life will some day open upon us. The gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s token and pledge of still greater things to come.


2 Cor.1:23-2:4

I call God to witness against my soul that it was because I wished to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth. I am not saying this because we have any desire to domineer over your faith, but because we desire to labour with you to produce joy. As far as faith is concerned, you stand firm. But for my own peace of mind I came to this decision–not to come to you again in grief. For, if I grieve you, who then is there to make me glad, except him who is grieved by what I have done? I write this very letter so that when I do come I may not incur grief at the hands of those from whom I ought to have joy, for I have never lost my confidence in every one of you, and I am still sure that my joy and the joy of all of you are one and the same thing. So I wrote you a letter out of much affliction and anguish of heart, it was through my tears I wrote it, not that I wanted you to be grieved, but that I wanted you to know the love I bear especially to you.

Here is the echo of unhappy things. As we have seen in the introduction, the sequence of events must have been this. The situation in Corinth had gone from bad to worse. The Church was tom with party divisions and there were those who denied the authority of Paul. Seeking to mend matters, Paul had paid a flying visit to Corinth. So far from mending things, that visit had exacerbated them and had nearly broken his heart. In consequence he had written a very severe letter of rebuke, written with a sore heart and through tears. It was just for that very reason that he had not fulfilled his promise to visit them again, for, as things were, the visit could only have hurt him and them.

Behind this passage lies the whole heart of Paul when he had to deal in severity with those he loved.

(i) He used severity and rebuke very unwillingly. He used them only when he was driven to use them and there was nothing else left to do. There are some people whose eyes are always focussed to find fault, whose tongues are always tuned to criticize, in whose voice there is always a rasp and an edge. Paul was not like that. In this he was wise. If we are constantly critical and fault-finding, if we are habitually angry and harsh, if we rebuke far more than we praise, the plain fact is that even our severity loses its effect. It is discounted because it is so constant. The more seldom a man rebukes, the more effective it is when he does. In any event, the eyes of a truly Christian man seek ever for things to praise and not for things to condemn.

(ii) When Paul did rebuke, he did it in love. He never spoke merely to hurt. There can be sadistic pleasure in seeing someone wince at a sharp and cruel word. But Paul was not like that. He never rebuked to cause pain; he always rebuked to restore joy. When John Knox was on his deathbed he said, “God knows that my mind was always void of hatred to the persons of those against whom I thundered my severest judgments.” It is possible to hate the sin but love the sinner. The effective rebuke is that given with the arm of love round the other person. The rebuke of blazing anger may hurt and even terrify; but the rebuke of hurt and sorrowing love alone can break the heart.

(iii) When Paul rebuked, the last thing he wanted was to domineer. In a modern novel, a father says to his son, “I’ll beat the fear of the loving God into you.” The great danger which the preacher and the teacher ever incur is of coming to think that our duty is to compel others to think exactly as we do and to insist that if they do not see things as we see them, they must be wrong. The duty of the teacher is not to impose beliefs on other people, but to enable and to encourage them to think out their own beliefs. The aim is not to produce a pale copy of oneself, but to create an independent human being. One who was taught by that great teacher, A. B. Bruce, said, “He cut the cables and gave us a glimpse of the blue waters.” Paul knew that as a teacher he must never domineer, although he must discipline and guide.

(iv) Finally, for all his reluctance to rebuke, for all his desire to see the best in others, for all the love that was in his heart, Paul nonetheless does rebuke when rebuke becomes necessary. When John Knox rebuked Queen Mary for her proposed marriage to Don Carlos, at first she tried anger and outraged majesty and then she tried “tears in abundance.” Knox’s answer was, “I never delighted in the weeping of any of God’s creatures. I can scarcely well abide the tears of my own boys, whom my own hand correcteth, much less can I rejoice in Your Majesty’s weeping. But I must sustain, albeit unwillingly, Your Majesty’s tears rather than I dare hurt my conscience, or betray my commonwealth through my silence.” Not seldom we refrain from rebuke because of mistaken kindness, or because of the desire to avoid trouble. But there is a time when to avoid trouble is to store up trouble and when to seek for a lazy or cowardly peace is to court a still greater danger. If we are guided by love and by consideration, not for our own pride but for the ultimate good of others, we will know the time to speak and the time to be silent.


2 Cor.2:5-11

If anyone has caused grief, it is not I whom he has grieved, but to some extent–not to overstress the situation–all of you. To such a man the punishment that has been imposed by the majority is sufficient, so that, so far from inflicting severer punishment, you must forgive him and comfort him, lest such a one be engulfed by excess of grief. So then, I urge you, let your decision in regard to him be a decision of love. For when I wrote to you my purpose was to test you, to see if you are obedient in all things. Whatever you have forgiven anyone, I, too forgive. For what I have forgiven, if I had anything to forgive, I forgave for your sakes, in the presence of Christ, so that we might not be over-reached by Satan, for we well know his intentions.

Again we have a passage which is an echo of trouble and of unhappiness. When Paul had visited Corinth there had been a ring-leader to the opposition. This man had clearly personally insulted Paul who had insisted that discipline must be exercised upon him. The majority of the Corinthians had come to see that his conduct had not only hurt Paul, but had injured the good name of the whole Corinthian Church. Discipline had been exercised, but there were some who felt that it had not been sufficiently severe and who desired to impose a still greater punishment.

It is now that the supreme greatness of Paul emerges. His plea is that enough has been done; the man is now penitent and to exercise still further discipline would do far more harm than good. It might simply drive the man to despair, and to do that is not to serve Christ and the Church, but to offer an opportunity to Satan to lay hold upon the man. Had Paul been actuated by merely human motives he would have gloated over the hard fate of his former enemy. Nowhere does the majesty of his character better emerge than on this occasion, when, in the graciousness of his heart, he pleads for mercy on the man who had hurt him so much. Here is a supreme example of Christian conduct in face of injury and insult.

(i) Paul did not take the matter personally at all. It was not the injury done to his personal feelings which was important. What he was anxious about was the good discipline and the peace of the Church. There are some people who take everything personally. Criticism, even when it is kindly meant and kindly given, they take as a personal insult. Such people do more than any other kind of people to disturb the peace of a fellowship. It would be well to remember that criticism and advice are usually offered, not to hurt us, but to help us.

(ii) Paul’s motive in the exercise of discipline was not vengeance but correction; he did not aim to knock a man down, but to help him to get up. His aim was to judge a man, not by the standards of abstract justice, but of Christian love. The fact is that quite often sins are good qualities gone wrong. The man who can plan a successful burglary has initiative and organizing power; pride is a kind of intensification of the independent spirit; meanness is thrift run to seed. Paul’s aim in discipline was, not to eradicate such qualities as a man might have, but rather to harness them to higher purposes. The Christian duty is not to render the sinner harmless by battering him into submission, but to inspire him to goodness.

(iii) Paul’s insistence was that punishment must never drive to despair and must never take the heart out of a man. The wrong kind of treatment often gives a man the last push into the arms of Satan. Over-severity may well drive him from the Church and its fellowship, while sympathetic amendment might well bring him in. Mary Lamb, who had terrible periods of insanity, was harshly treated by her mother. She used to sigh, “Why is it that I never seem able to do anything to please my mother?” Luther could scarcely bear to pray the Lord’s Prayer because his own father had been so stern that the word father painted a picture of grim terror to him. He used to say, “Spare the rod and spoil the child–yes; but, beside the rod keep an apple, to give the child when he has done well.” Punishment should encourage and not discourage. In the last analysis, this can happen only when we make it clear that, even when we are punishing a person, we still believe in him.


2 Cor.2:12-17

When we had come to Troas to tell the good news of Christ, even when a door of opportunity stood open to us in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, because I did not find Titus, my brother, there. But thanks be to God who at all times leads us in the train of his triumph in Christ, and who, through us, displays the perfume of the knowledge of him in every place; for we are the sweet scent of Christ in God to those who are destined for salvation and to those who are destined for destruction. To the one we are a perfume from death, to the other a perfume from life to life. And who is adequate for these tasks? We do not, as so many do, make a traffic of the word of God but, as from utter purity of motives, as from God, in the very presence of God in Christ we speak.

Paul begins by telling how his anxiety to know what was happening in Corinth made him so restless that he could not wait in Troas, although a fruitful field was there, and sent him off to meet Titus who had not yet arrived. Then comes his shout of triumph to God who brought all things to a happy ending.

2 Cor.2:14-16 are difficult to understand by themselves, but when set against the background which was in Paul’s thoughts they become a vivid picture. Paul speaks of being led in the train of the triumph of Christ; and then he goes on to speak of being the sweet scent of Christ to men, to some the perfume of death and to others the perfume of life.

In his mind is the picture of a Roman Triumph and of Christ as a universal conqueror. The highest honour which could be given to a victorious Roman general was a Triumph. To attain it he must satisfy certain conditions. He must have been the actual commander-in-chief in the field. The campaign must have been completely finished, the region pacified and the victorious troops brought home. Five thousand of the enemy at least must have fallen in one engagement. A positive extension of territory must have been gained, and not merely a disaster retrieved or an attack repelled. And the victory must have been won over a foreign foe and not in a civil war.

In a Triumph the procession of the victorious general marched through the streets of Rome to the Capitol in the following order. First came the state officials and the senate. Then came the trumpeters. Then were carried the spoils taken from the conquered land. For instance, when Titus conquered Jerusalem, the seven-branched candlestick, the golden table of the shew-bread and the golden trumpets were carried through the streets of Rome. Then came pictures of the conquered land and models of conquered citadels and ships. There followed the white bull for the sacrifice which would be made. Then there walked the captive princes, leaders and generals in chains, shortly to be flung into prison and in all probability almost immediately to be executed. Then came the lictors bearing their rods, followed by the musicians with their lyres; then the priests swinging their censers with the sweet-smelling incense burning in them. After that came the general himself. He stood in a chariot drawn by four horses. He was clad in a purple tunic embroidered with golden palm leaves, and over it a purple toga marked out with golden stars. In his hand he held an ivory sceptre with the Roman eagle at its top, and over his head a slave held the crown of Jupiter. After him rode his family; and finally came the army wearing all their decorations and shouting Io triumphs! their cry of triumph. As the procession moved through the streets, all decorated and garlanded, amid the cheering crowds, it made a tremendous day which might happen only once in a lifetime.

That is the picture that is in Paul’s mind. He sees Christ marching in triumph throughout the world, and himself in that conquering train. It is a triumph which, Paul is certain, nothing can stop.

We have seen how in that procession there were the priests swinging the incence-filled censers. To the victors the perfume from the censers would be the perfume of joy and triumph and life; but to the wretched captives who walked so short a distance ahead it was the perfume of death, standing for the past defeat and their coming execution. So Paul thinks of himself and his fellow apostles preaching the gospel of the triumphant Christ. To those who will accept it, it is the perfume of life, as it was to the victors; to those who refuse it, it is the perfume of death, as it was to the vanquished.

Of one thing Paul was certain–not all the world could defeat Christ. He lived not in pessimistic fear, but in the glorious optimism which knew the unconquerable majesty of Christ.

Then once more comes the unhappy echo. There were those who said that he was not fit to preach Christ. There were those who said worse, that he was using the gospel as an excuse to line his own pockets. Again Paul uses the word eilikrineia (GSN1505) for purity. His motives will stand the penetrating rays of the sun; his message is from God, it will stand the very scrutiny of Christ himself Paul never feared what men might say, because his conscience told him that he had the approval of God and the “Well done!” of Christ.


2 Cor.3:1-3

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely you do not think that we need–as some people need–letters of commendation neither to you or from you? You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all men. It is plain to see that you are a letter written by Christ, produced under our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets which are living, beating, human hearts.

Behind this passage lies the thought of a custom which was common in the ancient world, that of sending letters of commendation with a person. If someone was going to a strange community, a friend of his who knew someone in that community would give him a letter of commendation to introduce him and to testify to his character.

Here is such a letter, found among the papyri, written by a certain Aurelius Archelaus, who was a beneficiarius, that is a soldier privileged to have special exemption from all menial duties, to his commanding officer, a military tribune called Julius Domitius. It is to introduce and commend a certain Theon. “To Julius Domitius, military tribune of the legion, from Aurelius Archelaus, his beneficiarius, greeting. I have already before this recommended to you Theon, my friend, and now also, I ask you, sir, to have him before your eyes as you would myself. For he is a man such as to deserve to be loved by you, for he left his own people, his goods and his business and followed me, and through all things he has kept me safe. I therefore pray you that he may have the right to come and see you. He can tell you everything about our business…I have loved the man…I wish you, sir, great happiness and long life with your family and good health. Have this letter before your eyes and let it make you think that I am speaking to you. Farewell.”

That was the kind of commendatory letter, or reference, of which Paul was thinking. There is one such in the New Testament. Rom.16 is a letter of commendation written to introduce Phoebe, a member of the Church at Cenchrea, to the Church at Rome.

In the ancient world, as nowadays, sometimes written testimonials did not mean very much. A man once asked Diogenes, the Cynic philosopher, for such a letter. Diogenes answered, “That you are a man he will know at a glance; but whether you are a good or a bad man he will discover if he has the skill to distinguish between good and bad, and if he is without that skill he will not discover the facts even though I write to him thousands of times.” Yet in the Christian Church such letters were necessary, for even Lucian, the pagan satirist, noted that any charlatan could make a fortune out of the simple-minded Christians, because they were so easily imposed upon.

The previous sentences of Paul’s letter seemed to read as if he was giving himself a testimonial. He declares that he has no need of such commendation. Then he takes a side-glance at those who have been causing trouble in Corinth. “There may be some,” he says, “who brought you letters of commendation or who got them from you.” In all probability these were emissaries of the Jews who had come to undo Paul’s work and who had brought introductory letters from the Sanhedrin to accredit them. Once Paul had had such letters himself, when he set out to Damascus to obliterate the Church. (Ac.9:2). He says that his only testimonial is the Corinthians themselves. The change in their character and life is the only commendation that he needs.

He goes on to make a great claim. Every one of them is a letter of Christ. Long ago Plato had said that the good teacher does not write his message in ink that will fade; he writes it upon men. That is what Jesus had done. He had written his message on the Corinthians, through his servant, Paul, not with fading ink but with the Spirit, not on tablets of stone as the law was first written, but on the hearts of men.

There is a great truth here, which is at once an inspiration and an awful warning–every man is an open letter for Jesus Christ. Every Christian, whether he likes it or not, is an advertisement for Christianity. The honour of Christ is in the hands of his followers. We judge a shopkeeper by the kind of goods he sells; we judge a craftsman by the kind of articles he produces; we judge a Church by the kind of men it creates; and therefore men judge Christ by his followers. Dick Sheppard, after years of talking in the open air to people who were outside the Church, declared that he had discovered that “the greatest handicap the Church has is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians.” When we go out into the world, we have the awe-inspiring responsibility of being open letters, advertisements, for Christ and his Church.


2 Cor.3:4-11

We can believe this with such confidence because we believe it through Christ and in the sight of God. It is not that in our own resources we are adequate to reckon up the effect of anything that we have done, as it were personally, but our adequacy comes from God, who has made us adequate to be ministers of the new relationship which has come into existence between him and men. This new relationship does not depend on a written document, but on the Spirit. The written document is a deadly thing; the Spirit is a life-giving power. If the ministry which could only produce death, the ministry which depends on written documents, the ministry which was engraved on stone, came into being with such glory that the children of Israel could not bear to look for any time at the face of Moses, because of the glory which shone upon his face–and it was a glory that was doomed to fade surely even more will the ministry of the Spirit be clad in glory. For if the ministry which could not produce anything else but condemnation was a glory, the ministry which produces the right relationship between God and man excels still more in glory. For, indeed, that which was clad with glory no longer enjoys glory because of this–because of the glory that surpasses it. If that which was doomed to pass away emerged in glory, much more that which is destined to remain exists in glory.

This passage really falls into two parts. At the beginning of it Paul is feeling that perhaps his claim that the Corinthians are a living epistle of Christ, produced under his ministry, may sound a little like self-praise. So he hastens to insist that whatever he has done is not his own work but the work of God. It is God who has made him adequate for the task which was his. It may be that he is thinking of a fanciful meaning that the Jews sometimes gave to one of the great titles of God. God was called El (HSN0410) Shaddai (HSN7706), which is The Almighty, but sometimes the Jews explained El Shaddai to mean The Sufficient One. It is he who is all-sufficient who has made Paul sufficient for his task.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe produced Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 300,000 copies were sold in America in one year. It was translated into a score of languages. Lord Palmerston, who had not read a novel for thirty years, praised it “not only for the story, but for the statesmanship.” Lord Cockburn, a Privy Counsellor, declared that it had done more for humanity than any other book of fiction. Tolstoi ranked it among the great achievements of the human mind. It certainly did more than any other single thing to advance the freedom of the slaves. Harriet Beecher Stowe refused to take any credit for what she had written. She said, “l, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin? No, indeed, I could not control the story; it wrote itself. The Lord wrote it, and I was but the humblest instrument in his hand. It all came to me in visions, one after another, and I put them down in words. To him alone be the praise!”

Her adequacy was of God. It was so with Paul. He never said, “See what I have done!” He always said, “To God be the glory!” He never conceived of himself as adequate for any task; he thought of God as making him adequate. And that is precisely why, conscious as he was of his own weakness, he feared to set his hand to no task. He never had to do it alone; he did it with God.

The second part of the passage deals with the contrast between the old and the new covenant. A covenant means an arrangement made between two people through which they enter into a certain relationship. It is not, in the biblical usage, an ordinary agreement, because the contracting parties enter into an ordinary agreement on equal terms. But in the biblical sense of covenant, it is God who is the prime mover and approaches man to offer him a relationship upon conditions which man could neither initiate nor alter but only accept or reject.

The word Paul uses for new when he speaks of the new covenant is the same as Jesus used and it is very significant. In Greek there are two words for new. First, there is neos (GSN3501), which means new in point of time and that alone. A young person is neos (GSN3501) because he is a newcomer into the world. Second, there is kainos (GSN2537), which means not only new in point of time, but also new in quality. If something is kainos (GSN2537) it has brought a fresh clement into the situation. It is the word kainos (GSN2537) that both Jesus and Paul use of the new covenant, and the significance is that the new covenant is not only new in point of time; it is quite different in kind from the old covenant. It produces between man and God a relationship of a totally different kind.

Wherein does this difference lie?

(i) The old covenant was based on a written document. We can see the story of its initiation in Exo.24:1-8. Moses took the book of the covenant and read it to the people and they agreed to it. On the other hand the new covenant is based on the power of the life-giving Spirit. A written document is always something that is external; whereas the work of the Spirit changes a man’s very heart. A man may obey the written code while all the time he wishes to disobey it; but when the Spirit comes into his heart and controls it, not only does he not break the code, he does not even wish to break it, because he is a changed man. A written code can change the law; only the Spirit can change human nature.

(ii) The old covenant was a deadly thing, because it produced a legal relationship between God and man. In effect it said, “If you wish to maintain your relationship with God, you must keep these laws.” It thereby set up a situation in which God was essentially judge and man was essentially a criminal, forever in default before the bar of God’s judgment.

The old covenant was deadly because it killed certain things. (a) It killed hope. There was never any hope that any man could keep it, human nature being what it is. It therefore could issue in nothing but frustration. (b) It killed life. Under it a man could earn nothing but condemnation; and condemnation meant death. (c) It killed strength. It was perfectly able to tell a man what to do, but it could not help him to do it.

The new covenant was quite different. (a) It was a relationship of love. It came into being because God so loved the world. (b) It was a relationship between a.father and his sons. Man was no longer the criminal in default, he was the son of God, even if a disobedient son. (c) It changed a man’s life, not by imposing a new code of laws on him, but by changing his heart. (d) It therefore not only told a man what to do but gave him the strength to do it. With its commandments it brought power.

Paul goes on to contrast the two covenants. The old covenant was born in glory. When Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, which are the code of the old covenant, his face shone with such a splendour that no one could took at it (Exo.34:30). Obviously that was a transient splendour. It did not and it could not last. The new covenant, the new relationship which Jesus Christ makes possible between man and God, has a greater splendour which will never fade because it produces pardon and not condemnation, life and not death.

Here is the warning. The Jews preferred the old covenant, the law; they rejected the new covenant, the new relationship in Christ. Now the old covenant was not a bad thing; but it was only a second-best, a stage upon the way. As a great commentator has put it, “When the sun has risen the lamps cease to be of use.” And as has been so truly said, “The second-best is the worst enemy of the best.” Men have always tended to cling to the old even when something far better is offered. For long people, on so-called religious grounds, refused to use chloroform. When Wordsworth and the romantic poets emerged, criticism said, “This will never do.” When Wagner began to write his music, people would not have it. Churches all over the world cling to the old and refuse the new. Because a thing was always done, it is right, and because a thing was never done, it is wrong. We must be careful not to worship the stages instead of the goal, not to cling to the second-best while the best is waiting, not, as the Jews did, to insist that the old ways are right and refuse the new glories which God is opening to us.


2 Cor.3:12-18

It is because we possess such a hope that we speak with such freedom. We do not draw a veil over things, as Moses did over his face so that the children of Israel should not gaze at the end of the glory which was doomed to fade away. But their minds were dulled. To this very day the same veil remains, still not drawn aside, when they read the record of the old relationship between God and man, because only in Christ is that veil abolished. Yes, to this day, whenever the books that Moses wrote are read, the veil rests upon their heart. But, whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. The Lord is the Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. And we all, with no veil upon our faces, see as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, and we go on changing this image from glory to glory, even as it comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

All the pictures in this passage emerge directly from the passage which goes before. Paul begins from the thought that when Moses came down from the mount the glory upon his face was so bright that no one could gaze steadily upon it.

(1) He thinks back to Exo.34:33. The King James Version has it that Moses put a veil upon his face until he had finished speaking; but the correct translation of the Hebrew, is that Moses, as in the R.S.V., did this when he had finished speaking. Paul takes this to mean that Moses veiled his face so that the people should not have to see the slow fading of the glory that once was there. His first thought is that the glory of the old covenant, the old relationship between God and men, was essentially a fading one. It was destined to be overpassed, not as the wrong is overpassed by the right, but as the incomplete is overpassed by the complete. The revelation that came by Moses was true and great, but it was only partial; the revelation that came in Jesus Christ is full and final. As Augustine so wisely put it long ago, “We do wrong to the Old Testament if we deny that it comes from the same just and good God as the New. On the other hand we do wrong to the New Testament, if we put the Old on a level with it.” The one is a step to glory; the other is the summit of glory.

(ii) The idea of the veil now takes hold of Paul’s mind and he uses it in different ways. He says that, when the Jews listen to the reading of the Old Testament, as they do every Sabbath day in the synagogue, a veil upon their eyes keeps them from seeing the real meaning of it. It ought to point them to Jesus Christ, but the veil keeps them from seeing that. We, too, may fail to see the real meaning of scripture because our eyes are veiled.

(a) They may be veiled by prejudice. We, too, often go to scripture to find support for our own views rather than to find the truth of God.

(b) They may be veiled by wishful-thinking. Too often we find what we want to find, and neglect what we do not want to see. To take an example, we may delight in all the references to the love and the mercy of God, but pass over all the references to his wrath and judgment.

(c) They may be veiled by fragmentary thinking. We should always regard the Bible as a whole. It is easy to take individual texts and criticize them. It is easy to prove that parts of the Old Testament are sub-Christian. It is easy to find support for private theories by choosing certain texts and passages and putting others aside. But it is the whole message that we must seek; and that is just another way of saying that we must read all scripture in the light of Jesus Christ.

(iii) Not only is there a veil which keeps the Jews from seeing the real meaning of scripture; there is also a veil which comes between them and God.

(a) Sometimes it is the veil of disobedience. Very often it is moral and not intellectual blindness which keeps us from seeing God. If we persist in disobeying him we become less and less capable of seeing him. The vision of God is to the pure in heart.

(b) Sometimes it is the veil of the unteachable spirit. As the Scots saying has it, “There’s none so blind as those who winna see.” The best teacher on earth cannot teach the man who knows it all already and does not wish to learn. God gave us free will, and, if we insist upon our own way, we cannot learn his.

(iv) Paul goes on to say that we see the glory of the Lord with no veil upon our faces, and because of that we, too, are changed from glory into glory. Possibly what Paul means is that, if we gaze at Christ, we in the end reflect him. His image appears in our lives. It is a law of life that we become like the people we gaze at. People hero-worship someone and begin to reflect his ways. If we contemplate Jesus Christ, in the end we come to reflect him.

Paul sets for many a theological problem when he says, “The Lord is the Spirit.” He seems to identify the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit. We must remember that he was not writing theology; he was setting down experience. And it is the experience of the Christian life that the work of the Spirit and the work of the Risen Lord are one and the same. The strength and guidance we receive come alike from the Spirit and from the Risen Lord.

Where the Spirit is, says Paul, there is liberty. He means that so long as man’s obedience to God is conditioned by obedience to a code of laws he is in the position of an unwilling slave. But when it comes from the operation of the Spirit in his heart, the very centre of his being has no other desire than to serve God, for then it is not law but love which binds him. Many things which we would resent doing under compulsion for some stranger are a privilege to do for someone we love. Love clothes the humblest and the most menial tasks with glory. “In God’s service we find our perfect freedom.”


2 Cor.4:1-6

Since therefore this part of God’s service has been given to us, even as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have refused to have anything to do with hidden and shameful methods. We do not act with unscrupulous cleverness. We do not adulterate the word which God gave us to preach. But by making the truth clear, we commend ourselves to the human conscience in all its forms in the sight of God. But if in fact the good news that we preach is veiled to some, it is veiled in the case of those who are doomed to perish. In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who refuse to believe, in order that upon them there may not dawn the light of the good news which tells of the glory of Christ in whom we can see God. It is not ourselves that we proclaim, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. This we must do because it is the God who said, “Out of darkness light shall shine,” who has shined in our hearts to illumine us with the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In this passage Paul has something to say, either directly or by implication, about four different people or sets of people.

(i) Right at the beginning he has something to say about himself. He says that he never loses heart in the great task that has been given to him, and by implication he tells us why. Two things keep him going. (a) There is the consciousness of a great task. A man who is conscious of a great task can do amazing things. One of the great works of musical genius is Handel’s Messiah. It is on record that the whole work was composed and written down in twenty-two days, and that during all that time Handel would scarcely consent to eat or to sleep. A great task brings its own strength with it. (b) There is the memory of mercy received. It was Paul’s aim to spend all his life seeking to do something for the love which had redeemed him.

(ii) Then by implication Paul has something to say about his opponents and his slanderers. Again there is the echo of unhappy things. Behind this we can see that his enemies had levelled three charges against him. They had said that he used underhand methods, that he exercised an unscrupulous cleverness to get his own way, and that he adulterated the message of the gospel. When our motives are misinterpreted, our actions misconstrued and our words twisted out of their real meaning, it is a comfort to remember that this also happened to Paul.

(iii) Paul goes on to speak of those who have refused to accept the gospel. He insists that he has proclaimed the gospel in such a way that any man with any kind of conscience at all is bound to admit its claim and its appeal. Even in spite of that some are deaf to its appeal and blind to its glory. What of them?

Paul says something very difficult about them. He says that the god of this world has blinded their minds so that they cannot believe. All through the Bible the writers are conscious that in this world there is a power of evil. Sometimes that power is called Satan, sometimes the Devil. Three times John makes Jesus speak of the prince of this world and of his defeat. (Jn.12:31, Jn.14:30, Jn.16:11). Paul in Eph.2:2 speaks of the prince of the power of the air, and here he speaks of the god of this world. Even in the Lord’s Prayer there is a reference to this malign power, for it is most probable that the correct translation of Matt.6:13 is “Deliver us from the Evil One.” At the back of this idea as it emerges in the New Testament there are certain influences.

(a) The Persian faith called Zoroastrianism sees the whole universe as a battle-ground between the god of the light and the god of the dark, between Ormuzd and Ahriman. That which settles a man’s destiny is the side he chooses in this cosmic conflict. When the Jews were subject to the Persians they came into contact with that idea and it undoubtedly coloured their thinking.

(b) Basic to the Jewish faith is the thought of the two ages, the present age and the age to come. By the time of the Christian era, the Jews had come to think of the present age as incurably bad and destined for total destruction when the age to come dawned. It could fitly be said that the present age was under the power of the god of this world and at enmity with the true God.

(c) It has to be remembered that this idea of an evil and a hostile power is not so much a theological idea, as a fact of experience. If we regard it in a theological way we are up against serious difficulties. Where did that evil power come from in a universe created by God? What is its ultimate end? But if we regard it as a matter of experience, we all know how real the evil of the world is. Robert Louis Stevenson somewhere says, “You know the Caledonian Railway Station in Edinburgh? One cold, east windy morning I met Satan there.”

Everyone knows the kind of experience of which Stevenson speaks. However difficult the idea of a power of evil may be theologically or philosophically, it is one which experience understands only too well. Those who cannot accept the good news of Christ are those who have so given themselves over to the evil of the world that they can no longer hear God’s invitation. It is not that God has abandoned them; they by their own conduct have shut themselves off from him.

(iv) Paul has something to say about Jesus. The great thought that he drives home here is that in Jesus Christ we see what God is like. “He who has seen me,” said Jesus, “has seen the Father.” (Jn.14:9). When Paul preached he did not say, “Look at me!” He said, “Look at Jesus Christ! and there you will see the glory of God come to earth in a form that a man can understand.”


2 Cor.4:7-15

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the power which surpasses all things may be seen to be of God and not of us. We are sore pressed at every point, but not hemmed in. We are at our wit’s end, but never at our hope’s end. We are persecuted by men, but never abandoned by God. We are knocked down, but not knocked out. In our bodies we have to run the same risk of death as Jesus Christ did, so that in our body the same life as Jesus lived may be clear for all to see. For all through our lives we are continually handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life also which Jesus gives may be clear for all to see in our mortal flesh. The result is that death operates in us, but life operates in you. Because we have the same spirit of faith as appears in that passage of scripture where it stands written, “I have believed and therefore have I spoken,” we, too, believe and therefore speak, for we know that he who raised up the Lord Jesus will raise us up also with Jesus, and will present us with you. Everything that happens to us is for your sake, so that grace may abound more and more, and so swell the thanksgiving which rises from many to the glory of God.

Paul begins this passage with the thought that it might well be that the privileges which a Christian enjoys might move him to pride. But life is designed to keep a man from pride. However great his Christian glory he is still a mortal man; still the victim of circumstances; still subject to the chances and the changes of human life; still a mortal body with all that body’s weakness and pain. He is like a man with a precious treasure contained in an earthen vessel, which itself is weak and worthless. We talk a great deal about the power of man and about the vast forces which he now controls. But the real characteristic of man is not his power but his weakness. As Pascal said, “A drop of water or a breath of air can kill him.”

We have already seen what a proud and glorious thing a triumph was for a Roman general. But there were two things designed to keep the general from pride. First, as he rode in the chariot with the crown held over his head, the populace not only shouted their applause but also, ever and again, they shouted, “Look behind you and remember you will die.” Second, at the very end of the procession there came the conquering general’s own soldiers, and they did two things as they marched. They sang songs in the general’s praise, but they also shouted ribald jests and insults to keep him from too much pride.

Life has surrounded us with infirmity, although Christ has surrounded us with glory, so that we may remember that the infirmity is ours and the glory is God’s, and recognize our own utter dependence on him.

Paul goes on to describe this Christian life, in which our infirmity is intermingled with God’s glory, in a series of paradoxes.

(i) We are sore pressed at every point but not hemmed in. There are all kinds of pressure on us, but we are never in so tight a corner that there is no way out. It is characteristic of the Christian that, even if his body be confined in some difficult environment or some narrow circumstance, there is always an escape route for his spirit to the spaciousness of God.

Matthew Arnold writes of his meeting with a minister of Christ in the London slums.

“`Twas August and the fierce sun overhead Smote on the squalid slums of Bethnal Green, And the pale weaver, through his window seen In Spitalfields, look’d thrice dispirited. I met a preacher there I knew, and said: `Ill and o’erwork’d, how fare you in this scene?’ `Bravely,’ said he, `for I of late have been Much cheer’d with thoughts of Christ, the living bread’.”

His body might be hemmed in in a slum but his soul reached out into the spaciousness of communion with Christ.

(ii) We are persecuted by men but never abandoned by God. One of the most notable things about the martyrs is that it was amidst their sorest times that they had their sweetest times with Christ. As Joan of Arc said when she was abandoned by those who should have stood by her, “It is better to be alone with God. His friendship will not fail me, nor his counsel, nor his love. In his strength, I will dare and dare and dare until I die.” As the psalmist wrote, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” (Ps.27:10). Nothing can alter the loyalty of God.

(iii) We are at our wit’s end but never at our hope’s end. There are times when the Christian does not know what is to be done, but even then he never doubts that something can be done. There are times when he cannot well see where life is going, but he never doubts that it is going somewhere. If he must “stoop into a dark, tremendous sea of cloud”, he still knows that he will emerge. There are times when a Christian has to learn the hardest lesson of all, the very lesson which Jesus himself had to learn in Gethsemane–how to accept what he cannot understand and still to say, “God, Thou art love; I build my faith on that.”

Francis Thompson wrote of the presence of Christ on the darkest days:

“But (when so sad thou canst not sadder) Cry–and upon thy so sore loss Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder Pitched betwixt heaven and Charing Cross. Yea, in the night, my soul, my daughter, Cry–clinging heaven by the hems; And lo, Christ walking on the water Not of Gennesaret but Thames.”

A man may be at his wit’s end but he can never be at his hope’s end while he has the presence of Christ.

(iv) We are knocked down but not knocked out. The supreme characteristic of the Christian is not that he does not fall, but that every time he falls he rises again. It is not that he is never beaten, but he is never ultimately defeated. He may lose a battle, but he knows that in the end he can never lose the campaign. Browning in his Epilogue describes the gallant character:

“One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake.”

After he has stated the great paradoxes of the Christian life Paul goes on to give the secret of his own life, the reasons why he was able to do and to endure as he did.

(i) He was well aware that if a man would share the life of Christ he must share his risks, that if a man wished to live with Christ he must be ready to die with him. Paul knew and accepted the inexorable law of the Christian life–“No Cross, No Crown.”

(ii) He faced everything in the memory of the power of God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. He was able to speak with such courage and such disregard of personal safety because he believed that even if death took him, that God could and would also raise him up. He was certain that he could draw on a power which was sufficient for life and greater than death.

(iii) He bore everything in the conviction that through his sufferings and trials others were being led into the light and love of God. The great Boulder Dam scheme in America brought fertility to vast areas which had once been desert. In the making of it there were inevitably those who lost their lives. When the scheme was completed, a tablet was let into the wall of the dam bearing the names of the workmen who had died, and below stands the inscription: “These died that the desert might rejoice and blossom as the rose.” Paul could go through what he did because he knew that it was not for nothing; he knew that it was to bring others to Christ. When a man has the conviction that what is happening to him is happening literally for Christ’s sake he can face anything.


2 Cor.4:16-18

That is the reason why we do not grow weary. But if indeed our outward frame is wasting away, our inward self is renewed day by day, for the light affliction which at the moment we must endure produces for us in a way that cannot be exaggerated an eternal weight of glory, so long as we do not think of the things which are seen, but of the things which are unseen, for the things which are seen are passing, but the things which are unseen are eternal.

Here Paul sets out the secret of endurance.

(i) All through life it must happen that a man’s bodily strength fades away, but all through life it ought to happen that a man’s soul keeps growing. The sufferings which leave a man with a weakened body may be the very things which strengthen the sinews of his soul. It was the prayer of the poet, “Let me grow lovely growing old.” From the physical point of view life may be a slow but inevitable slipping down the slope that leads to death. But from the spiritual point of view life is a climbing up the hill that leads to the presence of God. No man need fear the years, for they bring him nearer, not to death, but to God.

(ii) Paul was convinced that anything he had to suffer in this world would be as nothing compared with the glory he would enjoy in the next. He was certain that God would never be in any man’s debt. Alistair Maclean, minister father of the author of H.M.S. Ulysses and the rest, tells of an old Highland woman who had to leave the clean air and the blue waters and the purple hills and live in the slum of a great city. She still lived close to God, and one day she said, “God will make it up to me, and I will see the flowers again.”

In Christmas Eve Browning writes of the martyr whose story was set out “on the rude tablet overhead.”

“I was born sickly, poor and mean, A slave; no misery could screen The holders of the pearl of price From Caesar’s envy,–therefore twice I fought with beasts and three times saw My children suffer by his law; At last my own release was earned; I was some time in being burned, But at the close a Hand came through The fire above my head, and drew My soul to Christ, whom now I see. Sergius, a brother, writes for me This testimony on the wall– For me, I have forgot it all.”

Earth’s suffering was forgotten in the glory of heaven.

It is a notable fact that in all the gospel story Jesus never foretold his death without foretelling his Resurrection. He who suffers for Christ will share his glory. God’s own honour is pledged to that.

(iii) For that very reason, a man’s eyes must be ever fixed, not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are unseen. The things that are seen, the things of this world, have their day and cease to be; the things that are unseen, the things of heaven, last forever.

There are two ways of looking at life. We can look at it as a slow but inexorable journey away from God. Wordsworth in his Ode on the Intimations of Immortality had the idea that when a child came into this world he had some memory of heaven which the years slowly took away from him.

“Trailing clouds of glory do we come,”


“Shades of the prison house begin to close About the growing boy.”

And in the end the man is earthbound and heaven is forgotten. Thomas Hood wrote with wistful pathos:

“I remember, I remember The fir-trees dark and high. I used to think their slender spires Were close against the sky. It was a childish ignorance But now ’tis little joy To know, I’m farther off from heaven Than when I was a boy.”

If we think only of the things that are visible we are bound to see life that way. But there is another way. The writer to the Hebrews said of Moses: “He endured as seeing him who is invisible.” (Heb.11:27). Robert Louis Stevenson tells of an old byreman. Someone was sympathizing with him about his daily work amidst the muck of the byre and asking him how he could go on doing it day in and day out, and the old man answered, “He that has something ayont (beyond) need never weary.”


2 Cor. 5:1-10

For we know that if this earthly house of ours, that tent which is the body is pulled down, we have a building which comes from God, a house not made with hands, eternal and in the heavens. For indeed so long as we are as we are we earnestly long to put on our abode which is from heaven, and if indeed we have put it on we shall not be found naked. For, while we are in this tent of the body, we groan, for life weighs us down, for it is not so much that we desire to be stripped of this house, but rather that we desire to put on our heavenly body over it, so that that which is subject to death may be swallowed up by life. He who has designed us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a first instalment of the life to come. So then we are always in good heart, although we know that, while we sojourn here in the body, we are absent from the Lord–for it is by faith we walk and not by sight–but we are in good heart and we are willing rather to depart from the body and to stay with the Lord. So then it is our one ambition, whether we are present with him or absent from him, to be the kind of people in which he can find pleasure. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may receive the consequences of the thing we did while we were in the body, consequences which will correspond to what each one of us has done, be it good or bad.

There is a very significant progression of thought in this passage, a progression which gives us the very essence of the thought of Paul.

(i) To him it will be a day of joy when he is done with this human body. He regards it as merely a tent, a temporary dwelling place, in which we sojourn till the day comes when it is dissolved and we enter into the real abode of our souls.

We have had occasion before to see how Greek and Roman thinkers despised the body. “The body,” they said, “is a tomb.” Plotinus could say that he was ashamed that he had a body. Epictetus said of himself. “Thou art a poor soul burdened with a corpse.” Seneca wrote, “I am a higher being and born for higher things than to be the slave of my body which I look upon as only a shackle put upon my freedom…. In so detestable a habitation dwells the free soul.” Even Jewish thought sometimes had this idea. “For the corruptible body presses down upon the soul and the earthly tabernacle weighs down the mind that muses on many things.” (Wis.9:15).

With Paul there is a difference. He is not looking for a Nirvana with the peace of extinction; he is not looking for absorption in the divine; he is not looking for the freedom of a disembodied spirit; he is waiting for the day when God will give him a new body, a spiritual body, in which he will still be able, even in the heavenly places, to serve and to adore God.

Kipling once wrote a poem in which he thought of all the great things that a man would be able to do in the world to come:

“When earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded,
And the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it–
Lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen
Shall put us to work anew.
And those that were good shall be happy,
They shall sit in a golden chair
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas
With brushes of comets’ hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from,
Magdalene, Peter and Paul,
They shall work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise them,
And only the Master shall blame;
And no one will work for money
And no one will work for fame;
But each for the joy of the working,
And each in his separate star,
Shall draw the thing as he sees it,
For the God of things as they are.”

That was how Paul felt. He saw eternity not as release into permanent inaction, but as the entry into a body in which service could be complete.

(ii) For all his yearning for the life to come, Paul does not despise this life. He is, he says, in good heart. The reason is that even here and now we possess the Holy Spirit of God, and the Holy Spirit is the arrabon (GSN0728) (compare 2 Cor.1:22), the first instalment of the life to come. It is Paul’s conviction that already the Christian can enjoy the foretaste of the life everlasting. It is given to the Christian to be a citizen of two worlds; and the result is, not that he despises this world, but that he finds it clad with a sheen of glory which is the reflection of the greater glory to come.

(iii) Then comes the note of sternness. Even when Paul was thinking of the life to come, he never forgot that we are on the way not only to glory, but also to judgment. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” The word for judgment seat is bema (GSN0968). Paul may be thinking simply of the tribunal of the Roman magistrate before which he himself had stood, or he may be thinking of the Greek way of justice.

All Greek citizens were liable to serve as judges, or, as we would say, as jurymen. When an Athenian sat in judgment on a case he was given two bronze discs. Each had a cylindrical axis. One axis was hollow and that disc stood for condemnation; one was solid and that disc stood for acquittal. On the bema (GSN0968) there stood two urns. One, of bronze, was called “the decisive urn”, for into it the judge dropped the disc which stood for his verdict. The other, of wood, was called “the inoperative urn”, for into it the judge dropped the disc which he desired to discard. So at the end the jury dropped into the bronze urn either the disc that stood for acquittal or the one that stood for condemnation. To an onlooker they looked exactly alike and none could tell the verdict the judges gave. Then the discs were counted and the verdict given.

Even so some day we shall await the verdict of God. When we remember that, life becomes a tremendous and a thrilling thing, for in it we are making or marring a destiny, winning or losing a crown. Time becomes the testing ground of eternity.


2 Cor.5:11-19

So then, it is because we know the fear of the Lord that we keep on trying to persuade men, but to God we are already known through and through, and I hope that in your conscience, too, we will come to be as completely known. We are not trying to give ourselves another testimonial, but we are giving you an opportunity to express your pride in us, so that you may be able to answer those who pride themselves on outward appearances but not in the things of the heart. For, if we have behaved like a madman, it is for the sake of God’s work. If we behave like a sensible person, it is for your sake. For it is the love of Christ which controls us, because we have come to this conclusion that one died for all, and that the inevitable conclusion is that all died. And he did die for all in order that those who live should no longer live for their own sakes, but for the sake of him who died and was raised again. The result is that from now on we value no man on the world’s standards. There was a time when we applied our human standards to Christ, but now that is no longer the way in which we know him. The result is that if a man is in Christ he has been created all over again. The old things have passed away, and lo! they have become new. And all things are from God who reconciled us to himself by means of Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation, a ministry whose message is that God, through Christ, was reconciling the world to himself, not debiting their sins against them, and has given us the story of this reconciliation to tell.

This passage follows very directly on the one that has gone before. Paul had just spoken of standing at the judgment tribunal of Christ. All his life is lived with that kept in view. It is not so much the terror of Christ he really talks about. It is rather awe and reverence that he means. The Old Testament is full of the thought of a cleansing fear. Job speaks of “the fear of the Lord that is wisdom.” (Jb.28:28). “What does the Lord your God require of you?” asks the writer of Deuteronomy, and the first item on his answer is, “to fear the Lord your God.” (Deut.10:12). “The fear of the Lord,” says Proverbs, “is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov.1:7 compare Prov.9:10). “By the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.” (Prov.16:6). This does not describe the fear of a dog who waits for a whipping or of a cowed child. It is that which keeps even a thoughtless man from desecrating a holy place. It is that which keeps a man from doing things which would break the heart of someone whom he loves. “The fear of the Lord,” said the psalmist, “is clean.” (Ps.19:9). There is a cleansing fear without which a man cannot live the life he ought.

Paul is trying to persuade men of his own sincerity. He has no doubt whatever that in the sight of God his hands are clean and his motives pure. but his enemies have cast suspicion on them, and he wishes to demonstrate his sincerity to his Corinthian friends. This is not from any selfish desire to vindicate himself. It is from the knowledge that, if his sincerity is questioned, the impact of his message will be injured. A man’s message will always be heard in the context of his character. That is why the preacher and the teacher must be beyond suspicion. We have to avoid, not only evil, but the very appearance of evil lest anything make others think less, not of us, but of the message which we bring.

In 2 Cor.5:13 Paul insists that behind all his conduct there has been one motive only–to serve God and to help the Corinthians. More than once Paul was thought to be crazy (Ac.26:24). He was suffering the same misunderstanding as Jesus suffered (Mk.3:21). The real enthusiast always runs the risk of seeming crazy to lukewarm people.

Kipling tells how, on a world tour, General Booth boarded the ship at a certain port. He was seen off by a horde of tambourine-beating Salvationists. The whole thing revolted Kipling’s fastidious soul. Later he got to know the General and told him how much he disapproved of this kind of thing. “Young man,” said Booth, “if I thought that I could win one more soul for Christ by standing on my hands and beating a tambourine with my feet I would learn to do it.”

The real enthusiast does not care if others think he is a fool. If a man follows out the Christian way of generosity, forgiveness and utter loyalty, there will always be worldly-wise people who will bluntly call him crazy. Paul knew that there was a time for calm, sensible conduct, and he knew, too, that there was a time for the conduct which to the world looks mad. He was prepared to follow either for the sake of Christ and of men.

Paul goes on to the moving motive of the whole Christian life. Christ died for all. To Paul the Christian is, in his favourite phrase, in Christ, and therefore the old self of the Christian died in that death and he arose a new man, as new as if he had been freshly created by the hands of God. In this newness of life he has acquired a new set of standards. He no longer judges things by the standards the world uses. There was a time when Paul had judged Christ by human standards and had set out to eliminate the Christian faith from the world. But not now. Now his standards are different. Now the man whose name he had sought to obliterate is to him the most wonderful person in the world, because he had given to him that friendship of God which he had longed for all his life.


2 Cor.5:20-6:2

So then we are acting as ambassadors on Christ’s behalf, for God is sending you his invitation through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made him who had no acquaintance with sin to be sin for us, that through him we might become the righteousness of God. Because we are trying to help him to win men, we urge you not to have received the offer of the grace of God all to no purpose. (For scripture says, “At an accepted time I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Lo! Now is the accepted time. Lo! Now is the day of salvation).

The office that Paul claims as his one glory and his one task is that of ambassador for Christ. The Greek he uses (presbeutes, compare GSN4246) is a great word. It had two uses corresponding with the Latin word of which it is a translation (legatus).

(i) Roman provinces were divided into two types. One was under the direct control of the senate, the other under the direct control of the Emperor. The distinction was made on this basis–provinces which were peaceful and had no troops in them were senatorial provinces; provinces which were turbulent and had troops stationed in them were imperial provinces. In the imperial provinces, the man who administered the province on behalf of the Emperor, was the legatus presbeutai. So then, the word in the first place paints a picture of a man who has a direct commission from the Emperor; and Paul regarded himself as commissioned by Jesus Christ for the work of the Church.

(ii) But presbeutes (compare GSN4246) and legatus have an even more interesting meaning. When the Roman senate decided that a country should become a province they sent to it ten legati or presbeutai, that is, envoys, of their own number, who, along with the victorious general, arranged the terms of peace with the vanquished people, determined the boundaries of the new province, drew up a constitution for its new administration, and then returned to submit what they had done for ratification by the senate. They were the men responsible for bringing others into the family of the Roman Empire. So Paul thinks of himself as the man who brings to others the terms of God, whereby they can become citizens of his empire and members of his family.

There is no more responsible position than that of ambassador.

(i) An ambassador of Britain is a Briton in a foreign land. His life is spent among people who usually speak a different language, who have a different tradition and who follow a different way of life. The Christian is always like that. He lives in the world; he takes part in all the life and work of the world; but he is a citizen of heaven. To that extent he is a stranger. The man who is not willing to be different cannot be a Christian at all.

(ii) An ambassador speaks for his own country. When a British ambassador speaks, his voice is the voice of Britain. There are times when the Christian has to speak for Christ. In the decisions and the counsels of the world his must be the voice which brings the message of Christ to the human situation.

(iii) The honour of a country is in its ambassador’s hands. His country is judged by him. His words are listened to, his deeds are watched and people say, “That is the way such-and-such a country speaks and acts.” Lightfoot, the great Bishop of Durham, said in an ordination address, “The ambassador, while acting, acts not only as an agent, but as a representative of his sovereign…. The ambassador’s duty is not only to deliver a definite message, to carry out a definite policy; but he is obliged to watch opportunities, to study characters, to cast about for expedients, so that he may place it before his hearers in its most attractive form.” It is the great responsibility of the ambassador to commend his country to the men amongst whom he is set.

Here is the Christian’s proud privilege and almost terrifying responsibility. The honour of Christ and of the Church are in his hands. By his every word and action he can make men think more-or-less of his Church and of his Master.

We have to note Paul’s message. “Be reconciled to God.” The New Testament never speaks of God being reconciled to men, but always of men being reconciled to God. There is no question of pacifying an angry God. The whole process of salvation takes its beginning from him. It was because God so loved the world that he sent his son. It is not that God is estranged from man but that man is estranged from him. God’s message, the message which Paul brought, is an appeal from a loving Father to wandering and estranged children to come home where love is waiting for them.

Paul beseeches them not to accept the offer of the grace of God all to no purpose. There is such a thing–and it is eternity’s tragedy–as the frustration of grace. Let us think of the matter in human terms. Suppose that a father sacrifices and toils to give his son every chance, surrounds him with love, plans for his future with care, and does everything humanly possible to equip him for life. And suppose the son feels no debt of gratitude, never feels the obligation to repay by being worthy of all this; and suppose he fails, not because he has not the ability, but because he will not try, because he forgets the love that gave him so much. That is what breaks a father’s heart. When God gives men all his grace and they take their own foolish way and frustrate that grace which might have recreated them, once again Christ is crucified and the heart of God is broken.


2 Cor.6:3-10

We do our work, trying to put an obstacle in no man’s way, for we do not wish the ministry to become a laughing stock for critics. But in everything we try to keep on commending ourselves as ministers of God must do–in much endurance, amidst the things which press sore upon us, in the inescapable pains of life, in anxieties, amidst stripes, in prisons, in tumults, in toils, in sleepless nights, in fastings, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the declaration of the truth, in the power of God, with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, in honour and in dishonour, in ill report and in good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and lo! we live; as chastened, but not killed; as grieved, but always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.

In all the chances and changes of life Paul had only one concern–to show himself a sincere and profitable minister of Jesus Christ. Even as he made that claim, his mind’s eye went back across what Chrysostom called “the blizzard of troubles” through which he had come and through which he was still struggling. Every word in this tremendous catalogue, which someone has called “the hymn of the herald of salvation,” has its background in Paul’s adventurous life.

He begins with one triumphant word of the Christian life–endurance (hupomone, GSN5281). It is untranslatable. It does not describe the frame of mind which can sit down with folded hands and bowed head and let a torrent of troubles sweep over it in passive resignation. It describes the ability to bear things in such a triumphant way that it transfigures them. Chrysostom has a great panegyric on this hupomone (GSN5281). He calls it “the root of all goods, the mother of piety, the fruit that never withers, a fortress that is never taken, a harbour that knows no storms” and “the queen of virtues, the foundation of right actions, peace in war, calm in tempest, security in plots.” It is the courageous and triumphant ability to pass the breaking-point and not to break and always to greet the unseen with a cheer. It is the alchemy which transmutes tribulation into strength and glory.

Paul goes on to speak of three groups, each of three things, in which this victorious endurance is practised.

(i) There are the internal conflicts of the Christian life.

(a) The things which press sore upon us. The word he uses is thlipsis (GSN2347) which originally expressed sheer, physical pressure on a man. There are things which weigh down a man’s spirit like the sorrows which are a burden on his heart and the disappointments which are like to crush the life out of him. The triumphant endurance can cope with them all.

(b) The inescapable pains of life. The Greek word (anagke, GSN0318) literally means the necessities of life. Certain burdens a man may escape, but others are inescapable. There are certain things which a man must bear. The greatest of these are sorrow, for only the life which has never known love will never know that, and death which is the lot of every man. The triumphant endurance enables a man to face all that is involved in being a man.

(c) Anxieties. The word Paul uses (stenochoria, GSN4730) literally means a too narrow place. It might be used of an army caught in a narrow, rocky defile with space neither to manoeuvre nor to escape. It might be used of a ship caught in a storm with no room either to ride it or to run before it. There are moments when a man seems to be in a situation in which the walls of life are closing round him. Even then the triumphant endurance makes him able to breathe the spaciousness of heaven.

(ii) There are the external tribulations of life.

(a) Stripes. For Paul the Christian life meant not only spiritual suffering, but also physical suffering. It is the simple fact that if there had not been those who were ready and able to bear the torture of the fire and the wild beasts we would not be Christian today. There are still some for whom it is physical agony to be a Christian; and it is always true that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

(b) Prisons. Clement of Rome tells us that Paul was in prison no fewer than seven times. From Acts we know that before he wrote to the Corinthians he was in prison in Philippi, and afterwards in Jerusalem, in Caesarea and in Rome. The pageant of Christians who were imprisoned stretches from the first to the twentieth century. There have always been those who would abandon their liberty sooner than abandon their faith.

(c) Tumults. Over and over again we have the picture of the Christian facing, not the sternness of the law, but the violence of the mob. John Wesley tells us of what happened to him in Wednesbury when the mob came “pouring down like a flood.” “To attempt speaking was vain; for the noise on every side was like the roaring of the sea. So they dragged me along till we came to the town; when, seeing the door of a large house open, I attempted to go in; but a man, catching me by the hair, pulled me back into the middle of the crowd. They made no more stop till they had carried me through the main street, from one end of the town to the other.” George Foxe tells us of what happened to him at Tickhill. “I found the priest and most of the chief of the parish together in the chancel. So I went up to them and began to speak, but immediately they fell upon me; the clerk took up the Bible as I was speaking, and struck me on the face with it, so that it gushed out with blood, and I bled exceedingly in the steeple-house. Then the people cried, `Let us have him out of the Church’; and when they had got me out they beat me exceedingly, and threw me down, and over a hedge; and afterwards they dragged me through a house into the street, stoning an beating me as they drew me along, so that I was besmeared all over with blood and dirt…. Yet when I was got upon my legs again I declared to them the word of life and shewed them the fruits of their teachers, how they dishonoured Christianity.” The mob has often been the enemy of Christianity; but nowadays it is not the violence but the mockery or the amused contempt of the crowd against which the Christian must stand fast.

(iii) There is the effort of the Christian life.

(a) Toils. The word Paul uses (kopos, GSN2873) is in the New Testament almost a technical term for the Christian life. It describes toil to the point of sheer exhaustion, the kind of toil which takes everything of body, mind and spirit that a man has to give. The Christian is the workman of God.

(b) Sleepless nights. Some would be spent in prayer, some in a situation of peril or discomfort where sleep was impossible. At all times Paul was ready to be the unsleeping sentinel of Christ.

(c) Fastings. No doubt what Paul means here is not deliberately chosen fastings, but times when he went hungry for the work’s sake. We may well contrast with his spirit the spirit of the man who would not miss a meal to attend the worship of the house of God.

Now Paul turns away from the trials and the tribulations, which endurance enabled him to conquer, to his own God-given equipment for the Christian life. Once again he retains the same arrangement of three groups of three items.

(i) There are the God-given qualities of mind. (a) Purity. The word Paul uses (hagnotes, GSN0054) was defined by the Greeks as “the careful avoidance of all sins which are against the gods; the service of the honour of God as nature demands”, as “prudence at its highest tension” and as “freedom from every stain of flesh and spirit.” It is in fact the quality which enables a man to enter into the very presence of God.

(b) Knowledge. This kind of knowledge has been defined as “knowledge of the things that must be done.” It was the knowledge which issued not in the theologian’s fine-spun subtleties but in the actions of the Christian man.

(c) Patience. Usually in the New Testament this word (makrothumia, GSN3115) denotes patience with people, the ability to bear with them even when they are wrong, even when they are cruel and insulting. It is a great word. In First Maccabees it is said (1Macc.8:4) that the Romans conquered the world by “their policy and their patience” and there the word expresses that Roman unconquerableness which would never make peace under defeat. Patience is the quality of a man who may lose a battle but who will never admit defeat in a campaign.

(ii) There are the God-given qualities of heart. (a) Kindness. Kindness (chrestotes, GSN5544) is one of the great New Testament words. It is the very opposite of severity. One great commentator describes it as “the sympathetic kindliness or sweetness of temper which puts others at their ease and shrinks from giving pain.” The great example is in Gen.26:17-22 which tells how Isaac would not fight or strive. It is the quality which thinks far more of others than of itself.

(b) The Holy Spirit. Paul knew well that no useful word could be spoken nor any good deed done without the help of the Holy Spirit. But the phrase may well mean not the Holy Spirit, but a spirit of holiness. It may mean that Paul’s dominating motive was one which was holy, one which was directed solely towards the honour and service of God.

(c) Unfeigned love. The word Paul uses is agape GSN0026), which is a characteristic New Testament word. It means unconquerable benevolence. It means that spirit which, no matter what anyone else does to it, will never seek anything but the other person’s highest good, will never dream of revenge, but will meet all injuries and rebuffs with undefeatable good will.

(iii) There is the God-given equipment for the work of preaching the gospel.

(a) The declaration of the truth. Paul knew that Jesus had not only given him a gospel to proclaim but the strength and the ability to proclaim it. To God he owed both the word and the door of utterance that had been opened for it.

(b) The power of God. To Paul this was everything. It was the only power he had. It was said of Henry the Fifth after the battle of Agincourt, “Neither would he suffer any ditties to be made and sung by the minstrels of his glorious victory, for that he would wholly have the praise and thanks altogether given to God.” Paul would never have said in pride, “I did this,” but always in humility, “God enabled me to do it.”

(c) The weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left. This means the weapons for defence and for attack. The sword or the spear was carried in the right hand and the shield on the left arm; and Paul is saying that God has given him the power to attack his task and to defend himself from his temptations.

Paul completes this lyrical passage with a series of contrasts. He begins with in honour and in dishonour. The word he uses for dishonour is normally used in Greek for loss of rights as a citizen (atimia, GSN0819). Paul says, “I may have lost all the rights and privileges which the world can confer but I am still a citizen of the Kingdom of God.” In ill-repute and in good-repute. There are those who criticize his every action and who hate his very name, but his fame with God is sure. Deceivers and yet true. The Greek word (planos, GSN4108) literally means a wandering quack and impostor. That is what others call him but he knows that his message is God’s truth. Unknown yet well known. The Jews who slandered him said he was a no-account nobody whom no one had ever heard of, yet to those to whom he had brought Christ he was known with gratitude. Dying, and lo! we live. Danger was his companion and the prospect of death his comrade, and yet by the grace of God he was triumphantly alive with a life that death could never kill. Chastened, but not killed. Things happened to him that might have chastened any man’s spirit but they could not kill the spirit of Paul. Grieved, but always rejoicing. Things happened that might have broken any man’s heart but they could not destroy Paul’s joy. Poor, yet making many rich. He might seem to be penniless but he brought with him that which would enrich the souls of men. Having nothing, yet possessing all things. He might seem to have nothing, but, having Christ, he had everything that mattered in this world and the next.


2 Cor.6:11-13 and 2 Cor.7:2-4

My dear Corinthians, we have spoken to you without keeping anything back. Our heart lies wide open to you. If there is any constraint between us, it lies, not in us, but in your hearts. Give me fair exchange. I speak as to children. Do you, too, open wide your hearts to us…. Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one. We have corrupted no one. We have taken advantage of no one. I am not speaking with any intention of condemnation. I have already told you that you are in our hearts, so that I am ready to die with you and to live with you. I have every confidence in you. I know that I can boast much about you. My comfort is complete. I am overflowing with joy amidst all the things that press sore upon me.

We have here taken together 2 Cor.6:11-13 and 2 Cor.7:2-4, for the moment omitting 2 Cor.6:14 to 2 Cor.7:1. The reason will become clear when we deal with the latter passage.

Paul is speaking with the accents of purest love. The breaches are healed. The quarrels are all made up and love reigns supreme. The phrase that we have translated “Our heart lies wide open to you,” literally means, “Our heart is enlarged.” Chrysostom has a fine comment. He says that heat makes all things expand and the warmth of love will always expand a man’s heart.

In the King James Version in 2 Cor.6:12 we note a translation which is very common in the New Testament and not very fortunate, “Ye are straitened in your own bowels.” The word translated bowels is the Greek word splagchna (GSN4698). It literally means the upper viscera, the heart, the liver and the lungs. In these organs the seat of the emotions was supposed to lie. The form of expression sounds awkward but it is not really any more curious than our own English form. We speak of a man being melancholy which literally means that he has a black liver. We put the seat of love in the heart, which, after all, is a physical organ. But in English idiom it is more natural to use the word heart than bowels.

Paul here makes a great series of claims. He has wronged no one, he has corrupted no one, he has taken advantage of no one. Towards the end of his life Sir Walter Scott made the great claim, “I have unsettled no man’s faith, I have corrupted no man’s principles.” Thackeray, also towards the end of his life, wrote a prayer in which he prayed that he “might never write a word inconsistent with the love of God, or the love of man, might never propagate has own prejudices or pander to those of others, might always speak the truth with his pen, and might never be actuated by a love of greed.”

Only one thing is worse than sinning oneself, ant[ that is teaching another to sin. It is one of the grim truths of life that another must always present a person with his first temptation, must give him the first push into sin, and it is a terrible thing to introduce a younger or a weaker brother to the wrong thing.

Someone tells of an old man who on his death-bed seemed distressed by something. When asked what was the matter he said that, when he was a boy, he and some companions had been playing at a cross-roads in the middle of a common. There was a signpost there and it was loose in its socket. They turned it round so that its arms were facing in the wrong directions. And the old man said, “I cannot stop wondering how many people were sent on the wrong road by the thing we did that day.”

There can be no regret like the regret of having sent another on the wrong way. It was Paul’s proud claim that his guidance and his influence had always been towards the best.

He finishes this passage by telling the Corinthians how complete his comfort is and how overflowing his joy even although at the moment troubles are all around him. Surely there never was a clearer proof that human relationships are the most important thing in life. If a man is happy at home, he can face up to anything outside. If a man is in fellowship with his friends, he can withstand the slings and arrows of fortune with a smile. As the writer of the Proverbs has it, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it.” (Prov.15:17).


2 Cor.6:14-7:1

Do not allow yourselves to become joined in an alien yoke with unbelievers. What partnership can there be between righteousness and lawlessness? What fellowship can darkness have with light? What concord can there be with Christ and Belial? What share can the believer have with the unbeliever? What agreement can the temple of God have with idols? For you are the temple of the living God, even as God said, “I will dwell in them and I will walk in them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from among them and separate yourselves,” the Lord says, “and, have no contact with impurity, and I will receive you, and I will be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me,” says the Lord, the ruler of all. So then, since we possess these promises, let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, and let us thus make holiness complete in the fear of God.

We come now to the passage which we omitted previously. There is no doubt that it comes in very awkwardly where it is. Its sternness is at odds with the glad and joyous love of the verses on either side of it.

In the introduction we saw that Paul wrote a letter prior to First Corinthians. In 1 Cor.5:9 he says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men.” That letter may be altogether lost. Or it may be that this is a section of it. It could easily happen that, when Paul’s letters were being collected, one sheet could get misplaced. It was not until A.D. 90 or thereby that the collection was made, and by that time there may well have been none who knew the proper order. Certainly, in substance, this well suits the letter referred to in 1 Cor.5:9.

There are certain Old Testament pictures behind this. Paul begins by urging the Corinthians not to be joined to unbelievers in an alien yoke. Undoubtedly that goes back to the old commandment in Deut.22:10, “You shall not plough with an ox and an ass together.” (compare Lev.19:19). The idea is that there are certain things which are fundamentally incompatible and were never meant to be brought together. It is impossible for the purity of the Christian and the pollution of the pagan to run in double harness.

In the demand, “What has the temple of God to do with idols?” Paul’s thought is going back to such incidents as Manasseh bringing a graven image into the temple of God (2Kgs.21:1-9), and, in the later days, Josiah utterly destroying such things (2Kgs.23:3ff.). Or he is thinking of such abominations as are described in Eze.8:3-18. Men had sometimes tried to associate the temple of God with idol worship, and the consequences had been terrible.

The whole passage is a rousing summons not to hold any fellowship with unbelievers. It is a challenge to the Corinthians to keep themselves unspotted from the world. It has been well remarked that the very essence of the history of Israel is in the words, “Get thee out!” That was the word of God that came to Abraham as the King James Version has it. “Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred and from thy father’s house” (Gen.12:1). That was the warning that came to Lot before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Gen.19:12-14). There are things in the world with which the Christian cannot and dare not associate himself.

It is difficult to realize just how many separations Christianity meant for the people who first accepted it.

(i) Often it meant that a man had to give up his trade. Suppose he was a stone mason. What was to happen if his firm received a contract to build a heathen shrine? Suppose he was a tailor. What was to happen if he was instructed to cut and sew garments for priests of the heathen gods? Suppose he was a soldier. At the gate of every camp burned the light upon the altar sacred to the godhead of Caesar. What was to happen if he had to fling his pinch of incense on that altar in token of his worship? Time and time again in the early Church the choice came to a man between the security of his job and his loyalty to Jesus Christ. It is told that a man came to Tertullian. He told him his problem and then he said, “But after all I must live.” “Must you?” said Tertullian.

In the early Church a man’s Christianity often meant that he had to get out from his job. One of the most famous modern examples of this same thing was F. W. Charrington. He was the heir to a fortune made by brewing. He was passing a tavern one night. There was a woman waiting at the door. A man, obviously her husband, came out, and she was trying to keep him from going back in. With one blow of his fist the man felled her. Charrington started forward and then he looked up. The name above the tavern was his own, and Charrington said, “With that one blow that man did not only knock his wife out, he also knocked me clean out of that business forever.” And he gave up the fortune he might have had, rather than touch money earned in such a way.

No man is keeper of another man’s conscience. Every man must decide for himself if he can take his trade to Christ and Christ with him to his daily work.

(ii) Often it meant that a man had to give up social life. In the ancient world, as we saw when studying the section on meat offered to idols, many a heathen feast was held in the temple of a god. The invitation would run, “I invite you to dine with me at the table of our Lord Serapis.” Even if that were not so, a heathen feast would begin and end with the pouring of a libation, a cup of wine, to the gods. Could a Christian share in that? Or must he get out and say good-bye to the social fellowship which used to mean so much to him?

(iii) Often it meant that a man had to give up family ties. The pain of Christianity in the early years was the way it split families. A wife became a Christian and her husband might drive her from his house. A husband became a Christian and his wife might leave him. Sons and daughters became Christians and might find the door of the home shut and barred in their faces. It was literally true that Christ came not to send peace but a dividing sword upon earth and that men and women had to be prepared to love him more than their nearest and dearest. They had to be prepared to get out even from their homes,

However hard it may be, it will always remain true that there are certain things a man cannot do and be a Christian. There are certain things from which every Christian must get out.

Before we leave this passage, there is one point we may note. In it Paul quotes scripture and his quotation is a mixture of a variety of passages, none quoted accurately, from Lev.26:11-12, Isa.52:11, Eze.20:34, Eze.37:27 and 2Sam.7:14. It is a fact that Paul seldom quotes accurately. Why? We must remember that in his time books were written on papyrus rolls. A book the size of Acts would require a roll about thirty-five feet long, a very unwieldy thing. There were no chapter divisions; they were inserted by Stephen Langton in the thirteenth century. There were no verse divisions; they were inserted by Stephanus, the Paris printer, in the sixteenth century. Finally, there was no such thing as a concordance until the sixteenth century. The result was that Paul did the only sensible thing–he quoted from memory, and so long as he got the substance right he did not worry about the actual wording. It was not the letter of scripture but the message of scripture which mattered to him.


2 Cor.7:5-16

For when we arrived in Macedonia we could find no rest for our body, but we were sore pressed on every side. There were wars without and fears within. But he who comforts the lowly comforted us–I mean God–by the arrival of Titus. We found this comfort not only in his arrival, but in the comfort which he found amongst you, for he brought news of your longing to see me, of your grief for the past situation, of your zeal to show your loyalty to me. The consequence was that my gladness was greater than my troubles. For if I grieved you with the letter I sent you, I am not sorry that I sent it, although, to tell the truth I was sorry; for I see that that letter, if it was only for a time, did grieve you. Now I am glad, not that you were grieved, but that your grief was the way to repentance. It was a godly grief that came to you, so that you have lost nothing through our action, for godly grief produces repentance which leads to salvation and which no man ever regrets. But worldly grief produces death. Look now! This very thing, this godly grief–see what earnest longing it produced in you, what a desire to set yourselves right, what vexation at what you had done, what fear, what yearning, what zeal, what steps to inflict condign punishment on the man who deserved it! You have shown yourselves pure in this matter. If I did indeed write to you, it was not for the sake of him who committed the wrong, nor for the sake of him who was wronged; it was to make quite clear to you in the sight of God the earnestness you really possessed for us. Because of this we have been comforted. In addition to this comfort which came to us, we rejoiced with still more overflowing joy in the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by the way in which you all treated him. For if I did rather boast about him, I was not put to shame, but just as everything we have said to you was spoken with truth, so too our boast about Titus was proved to be the truth. And his heart goes out overflowingly to you when he remembers what obedience you showed, how you received him with fear and trembling. I am glad that in everything I am in good heart about you.

The connection of this section really goes as far back as 2 Cor.2:12-13, for it is there that Paul tells how in Troas he had no rest because he did not know how the Corinthian situation had developed and how he had set out to Macedonia to meet Titus to get the news as quickly as possible. Let us again remember the circumstances. Things had gone wrong in Corinth. In an attempt to mend them Paul had paid a flying visit which only made them worse and nearly broke his heart. After the failure of the visit he had despatched Titus with a letter of quite exceptional sternness and severity. He was so worried about the outcome of the whole unhappy business that he was quite unable to rest at Troas although there was much there that he might have done, so he set out to meet Titus to get the news as quickly as possible. He met Titus somewhere in Macedonia and learned to his overflowing joy that the trouble was over, the breach was healed and all was well. That is the background of events against which this passage must be read and it makes it very rich.

It tells us certain things about Paul’s whole method and outlook on rebuke.

(i) He was quite clear that there came a time when rebuke was necessary. It often happens that the man who seeks an easy peace finds in the end nothing but trouble. The man who allows a perilous situation to develop because he shrinks from dealing with it, the parent who exercises no discipline because he fears unpleasantness, the man who will not grasp the nettle of danger because he wants to find the flower of safety, in the end simply piles up greater trouble for himself. Trouble is like disease. If it is dealt with at the right time, it can often easily be eradicated; if not, it can become an incurable growth.

(ii) Even admitting all that, the last thing Paul wished was to rebuke. He did it only under compulsion and took no pleasure whatever in inflicting pain. There are those who take a sadistic pleasure in seeing someone wince beneath the lash of their tongue, who pride themselves on being candid when they are only being rude and on being blunt when they are only being boorish. It is the simple fact that the rebuke which is given with a certain relish will never prove as effective as the rebuke which is obviously unwillingly dragged out and which a man gives only because he can do no other.

(iii) Further, Paul’s sole object in giving rebuke was to enable people to be what they ought to be. By his rebuke he wished the Corinthians to see the real earnestness they possessed for him in spite of their disobedience and their trouble-making. Such a course might for the moment cause pain, but its ultimate object was not the pain; it was not to knock them down, but to lift them up; it was not to discourage them, but to encourage them; it was not simply to eradicate the evil, but to make the good grow.

This passage tells us also of three great human joys.

(i) There breathes through it all the joy of reconciliation, the healed breach and the mended quarrel. We all remember times in childhood when we had done something wrong and there was a barrier between us and our parents. We all know that can still happen between us and those we love. And we all know the flood of relief and the happiness when the barriers are gone and we are at one again with those we love. In the last analysis the man who cherishes bitterness hurts no one more than he hurts himself.

(ii) There is the joy of seeing someone in whom you believe justifying that belief. Paul had given Titus a good character and Titus had gone to meet a very difficult situation. Paul was overjoyed that Titus had justified his confidence in him and proved his words true. Nothing brings so deep a satisfaction as to know that our children in the flesh or in the faith do well. The deepest joy that a son or a daughter or a scholar or a student can bring to parent or teacher is to demonstrate that they are as good as the parent or the teacher believes them to be. Life’s sorest tragedy is disappointed hopes and life’s greatest joy is hopes come true.

(ii) There is the joy of seeing someone you love welcomed and well-treated. It is a fact of life that kindness shown to those we love moves us even more deeply than kindness shown to ourselves. What is true of us is true of God. That is why we can best show our love of God by loving our fellow men. The thing that delights the heart of God is to see one of his children kindly treated. Inasmuch as we do it to them we do it to him.

This passage also draws one of the most important distinctions in life. It draws the distinction between the godly and the worldly sorrow.

(i) A godly sorrow produces a true repentance, and a true repentance is one which demonstrates its sorrow by its deeds. The Corinthians proved their repentance by doing everything they could to mend the wretched situation that their thoughtless conduct had produced. Now they hated the sin they had committed, and even hated themselves for committing it, and they laboured to atone for it.

(ii) A worldly sorrow is not really sorrow at all in one sense but it is not sorrow for its sin or for the hurt it may have caused others; it is only resentment that it has been found out. If it got the chance to do the same thing again and thought it could escape the consequences, it would do it. A godly sorrow is a sorrow which has come to see the wrongness of the thing it did. It is not just the consequences of the thing it regrets; it hates the thing itself. We must be very careful that our sorrow for sin is not merely sorrow that we have been found out, but sorrow which, seeing the evil of the sinful thing is determined never to do it again and has dedicated the rest of its life to atone, by God’s grace, for what it has done.


2 Cor.8:1-15

Brothers, we want you to know about the grace of God which was given in the Churches of Macedonia. We want you to know that even when they were going through a severe test of their faith when things were pressing sorely on them, their overflowing happiness and their poverty which reached the very depths of destitution combined to overflow into the wealth of their generosity. For, I bear witness, they gave according to their ability, yes, beyond their ability, quite spontaneously, begging us and strongly urging us to give them the privilege of sharing in this service designed for the help of God’s dedicated people. It was not only as we hoped that they gave, but, first, by God’s will, they gave themselves to the Lord and to us. We were so impressed by this that we have invited Titus, as in your case he began it, so to bring to its completion this act of generosity. But, just as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all earnestness and in the love which went out from you to come to rest in us–I urge you to excel also in this act of generosity. This is not an order that I am giving you, but I am using the example of the earnestness of others to prove the genuineness of your love. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. You know that it was for your sakes that, though he was rich, he became poor, that you, by his poverty, might become rich. It is my opinion that I give you in this matter. This is to your good, you, who as long ago as last year, were the first not only to do this but to desire to do it. Now complete the action, so that your readiness to set this scheme in hand may be matched by your completing it according to your means. For if readiness to give already exists, to make it fully acceptable a man is called upon to give in proportion to what he has and not in proportion to what he has not. You are not called on to give so that others may have relief while you yourselves are hard pressed. But things will even themselves up. At the present time your abundance must be used to relieve their lack, so that some day their abundance may be used to relieve your lack, so that things may be evened up, just as it stands written, “He who gathered his much had not too much, and he who gathered his little had not too little.”

One of the schemes that lay nearest to Paul’s heart was the collection that he was organizing for the Church of Jerusalem. This was the Mother Church but she was poor, and it was Paul’s desire that all the Gentiles’ Churches should remember and help that Church which was their mother in the faith. So here he reminds the Corinthians of their duty and urges them to generosity.

He uses five arguments to appeal to them to give worthily.

(i) He cites the example of others. He tells them how generous the Macedonian Churches had been. They were poor and in trouble but they gave all they had, far more than anyone could have expected. At the Jewish Feast of Purim there is a regulation which says that, however poor a man is, he must find someone poorer than himself and give him a gift. It is not always those who are most wealthy who are most generous; often those who have least to give are the most ready to give. As the common saying has it, “It is the poor who help the poor,” because they know what poverty is like.

(ii) He cites the example of Jesus Christ. For Paul the sacrifice of Jesus did not begin on the Cross. It did not even begin with his birth. It began in heaven, when he laid his glory by and consented to come to earth. Paul’s challenge to the Christian is, “With that tremendous example of generosity before you, how can you hold back?”

(iii) He cites their own past record. They have been foremost in everything. Can they then lag behind in this? If men were only true to their own highest standards, if we all lived always at our best, what a difference it would make!

(iv) He stresses the necessity of putting fine feeling into fine action. The Corinthians had been the first to feel the appeal of this scheme. But a feeling which remains only a feeling, a pity which remains a pity only of the heart, a fine desire that never turns into a fine deed, is a sadly truncated and frustrated thing. The tragedy of life so often is, not that we have no high impulses, but that we fail to turn them into actions.

(v) He reminds them that life has a strange way of evening things up. Far more often than not we find that it is measured to us with the same measure as we measure to others. Life has a way of repaying bounty with bounty, and the sparing spirit with the sparing spirit.

Paul says a very fine thing about the Macedonians. He says that first of all they gave themselves–and so indeed they did. Two of them stand out above all the others. There was Aristarchus of Thessalonica. He was with Paul on the last journey to Rome (Ac.28:2). Like Luke, he must have come to a great decision. Paul was under arrest and on his way to trial before the Emperor. There was only one way in which Aristarchus could have accompanied him, and that was by enrolling himself as Paul’s slave. Aristarchus in the fullest sense gave himself. There was Epaphroditus. When Paul was in prison in the later days, he came to him with a gift from Philippi, and there in prison he fell grievously ill. As Paul said of him, “he nearly died for the work of Christ” (Php.2:26-30).

No gift can be in any real sense a gift unless the giver gives with it a bit of himself. That is why personal giving is always the highest kind, and that is the kind of giving of which Jesus Christ is the supreme example.

The Old Testament quotation with which Paul concludes this passage is from Exo.16:18, which tells how when the Israelites gathered the manna in the wilderness, whether a man gathered little or much, it was enough.


2 Cor.8:16-24

Thanks be to God who has put into the heart of Titus the same earnestness for you as there is in mine. His earnestness is proved by the fact that he not only welcomed my invitation, but that also, with characteristic earnestness, he is going to you of his own choice. Along with him we send the brother whose praise in the gospel is in all the Churches. Not only does he enjoy universal praise, but he has also been elected by the Churches to be our fellow-traveller in this act of charity which is being administered by us to promote the glory of God and to show your eagerness. We are making arrangements to ensure that no one will criticize us in our handling of the administration of this munificent gift. We aim to produce conduct which is fair not only in the sight of God but also in the sight of men. With them we send our brother whose earnestness we have often proved on many occasions, and who is now even more earnest in this work because of his great confidence in you. If any further questions are asked about Titus–he is my partner and my fellow-worker in all that concerns you. If any further questions are asked about our brothers–they are apostles of the Church, the glory of Christ. Give them unanswerable proof of your love and prove to them that our boasting about you is true. You will be proving it in the face of the Churches.

The great interest of this passage is its intensely practical character. Paul knew he had his enemies and his critics. He knew well that there would be those who would not hesitate to charge him with turning part of the collection to his own use, and so he takes steps to see that it would be impossible to level that charge against him, by ensuring that others will share with him the task of taking it to Jerusalem. Who the two unnamed brothers were no one knows. The first, the brother whose praise is in all the Churches, is usually identified with Luke. The Collect for St. Luke’s Day assumes this identification. “Almighty God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the gospel, to be an Evangelist and Physician of the soul; may it please thee that by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed.” It was Paul’s aim to make clear not only to God but also to men that he was above suspicion.

It is most interesting to note that this same Paul, who could write like a lyric poet and think like a theologian could, when it was necessary, act with the meticulous accuracy of a chartered accountant. He was a big enough man to do the little things and the practical things supremely well.


2 Cor.9:1-5

It is superfluous for me to write to you about this service designed to help God’s dedicated people, for I know your eagerness, about which I have boasted for you to the Macedonians, for I have told them that Achaea has been ready since last year, and the story of your zeal has kindled the majority of them. But, all the same, I am sending the brothers, so that, in this particular matter, the boast I made of you may not be proved empty, so that you might be all ready, as I said you were. I do this in case the Macedonians should arrive with me and find you unprepared, and, in case, if that should happen, we–not to mention you yourselves–should be ashamed. I think it necessary to invite the brothers to go on ahead of us, and to get your promised bounty in order in good time, so that it should be ready as if you were eager to give and not as if I were forcing it out of you.

As many of the early fathers noted, there is a delightfully human touch in the background of this passage. Paul is dealing with the collection for the saints at Jerusalem. But now it becomes clear that he has been encouraging the Corinthians to generosity by quoting the example of the Macedonians (2 Cor.8:1-5), and at the same time encouraging the Macedonians by quoting the Corinthians! And now he is just a little afraid that the Corinthians may let him down! It is typical of Paul and of the greatness of his heart. For the whole point is that he never criticized one Church to another; he praised one to another. No bad standard by which to test a man is whether he delights in retailing the best or the worst about others.

There are at least four ways in which a man may give a gift.

(i) He may give as a duty. He may discharge the claims of generosity but do so as one pays an account or sends a remittance to a tax-collector. It may be done as a grim duty and with such a bad grace that it would be almost better not to do it at all.

(ii) He may give simply to find self-satisfaction. He thinks far more of the pleasant feeling that he has when he makes the gift than of the feelings of the person who receives it. There are people who will give a penny to a beggar rather because of the glow of satisfaction they get than from any real desire to help. Such giving is in essence selfish; people who give like that give to themselves rather than to the recipient.

(iii) He may give from motives of prestige. The real source of such giving is not love but pride. The gift is given not to help but to glorify the giver. In fact the chances are that it would not be given at all if it were not seen and praised. It may even be that the giving is done in order to pile up credit with God–as if any man could put God in his debt.

(iv) None of these ways of giving are wholly bad, for at least the gift is made. But the real way to give is under love’s compulsion, to give because one cannot help giving, to give because the sight of a soul in need wakens a desire that cannot be stilled. This is in fact to give in God’s way; it was because he so loved the world that he gave his Son.

Paul’s great desire is that the gift of the Corinthians should be ready and not have to be collected at the last moment. An old Latin proverb says, “He gives twice who gives quickly.” That is always true. The finest gifts are those made, before they are requested. It was while we were yet enemies that Christ died for us. God hears our prayers even before we speak them. And we should be to our fellow men as God has been to us.


2 Cor.9:6-15

Further, there is this–He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. Let each man give as he has decided in his heart. Let him not give as if it hurt him to give or as if it was being forced out of him, for it is the happy giver whom God loves. God can supply you with an overflowing measure of every grace, so that because in all things at all times you have all sufficiency, you may excel in every good work. As it stands written, “He scattered his seed, he gave to the poor; his righteousness remains for ever.” And in every point you will be enriched for every kind of generosity, that generosity which, through you, produces thanksgiving to God. For the ministration of this act of voluntary service not only fills up the lacks of God’s dedicated people, but it also does something special for God through the many thanksgivings it produces. Through your generosity the reality of your Christian service will be so signally proved that they will glorify God because of the way in which you obey your creed, which looks to the gospel of Christ, and because of the generous way in which you have shared with them and with all men; and they will pray for you and long for you because of the surpassing grace of God which is upon you. Thanks be to God for the free gift of God he gave to us, the story of which can never be fully told.

This passage gives us an outline of the principles of generous giving.

(i) Paul insists that no man was ever the loser because he was generous. Giving is like sowing seed. The man who sows with a sparing hand cannot hope for anything but a meagre harvest, but the man who sows with a generous hand will in due time reap a generous return. The New Testament is an extremely practical book and one of its great features is that it is never afraid of the reward motive. It never says that goodness is all to no purpose. It never forgets that something new and wonderful enters into the life of the man who accepts God’s commands as his law.

But the rewards that the New Testament envisages are never material. It promises not the wealth of things, but the wealth of the heart and of the spirit. What then can a generous man expect?

(a) He will be rich in love. This is a point to which we will return. It is always true that no one likes the mean man and generosity can cover a multitude of other sins. Men will always prefer the warm heart, even though its very warmth may lead it into excesses, to the cold rectitude of the calculating spirit.

(b) He will be rich in friends. “A man that has friends must show himself friendly.” An unlovable man can never expect to be loved. The man whose heart runs out to others will always find that the hearts of others run out to him.

(e) He will be rich in help. The day always comes when we need the help which others can give, and, if we have been sparing in our help to them, the likelihood is that they will be sparing in their help to us. The measure we have used to others will determine the measure which is given to us.

(d) He will be rich towards God. Jesus taught us that what we do to others we do for God, and the day will come when every time we opened our heart and hand will stand to our favour, and every time we closed them will be a witness against us.

(ii) Paul insists that it is the happy giver whom God loves. Deut.15:7-11 lays down the duty of generosity to the poor brother, and Deut.15:10 has it, “Your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him.” There was a rabbinic saying which said that to receive a friend with a cheerful countenance and to give him nothing is better than to give him everything with a gloomy countenance. Seneca said that to give with doubt and delay is almost worse than not to give at all.

Paul then quotes from Ps.112:3,9–verses which he takes to be a description of the good and generous man. He scatters his seed, that is he sows it not sparingly but generously; he gives to the poor; and his action is to his credit and joy forever. Carlyle tells how, when he was a boy, a beggar came to the door. His parents were out and he was alone in the house. On a boyish impulse he broke into his own savings-bank and gave the beggar all that was in it, and he tells us that never before or since did he know such sheer happiness as came to him in that moment. There is indeed a joy in giving.

(ii) Paul insists that God can give a man both the substance to give and the spirit in which to give it. In 2 Cor.9:8 he speaks of the all-sufficiency which God gives us. The word he uses is autarkeia (GSN0841). This was a favourite Stoic word. It does not describe the sufficiency of the man who possesses all kinds of things in abundance. It means independence. It describes the state of the man who has directed life not to amassing possessions but to eliminating needs. It describes the man who has taught himself to be content with very little. It is obvious that such a man will be able to give far more to others because he wants so little for himself. It is so often true that we want so much for ourselves that there is nothing left to give to others.

Not only that, it is God who can give us the spirit in which to give. Robert Louis Stevenson’s native servants loved him. His boy used to waken him every morning with a cup of tea. On one occasion his usual boy was off duty, and another had taken over. This boy woke him not only with a cup of tea but also with a beautifully cooked omelette. Stevenson thanked him and said, “Great is your forethought.” “No, master,” said the boy, “great is my love.” It is God alone who can put into our hearts the love which is the essence of the generous spirit.

But in this passage Paul does more. If we read into its thought, we see that he holds that giving does wonderful things for three different persons.

(i) It does something for others. (a) It relieves their need. Many a time, when a man was at his wit’s end, a gift from someone else has seemed nothing less than a gift from heaven. (b) It restores their faith in their fellow men. It often happens that, when a man is in need, he grows embittered and feels himself neglected. It is then that a gift shows him that love and kindness are not dead. (c) It makes them thank God. A gift in a time of need is something which brings not only our love but also God’s love into the lives of others.

(ii) It does something for ourselves. (a) It guarantees our Christian profession. In the case of the Corinthians that was specially important. No doubt the Jerusalem Church, which was almost entirely Jewish, still regarded the Gentiles with suspicion and wondered in its heart of hearts if Christianity could be for them at all. The very fact of the gift of the Gentile Churches must have guaranteed to them the reality of Gentile Christianity. If a man is generous it enables others to see that he has turned his Christianity not only into words but into deeds as well. (b) It wins us both the love and the prayers of others. What is needed in this world more than anything else is something which will link a man to his fellow men. There is nothing so precious as fellowship, and generosity is an essential step on the way to real union between man and man.

(iii) It does something for God. It makes prayers of thanksgiving go up to him. Men see our good deeds and glorify not us but God. It is a tremendous thing that something we can do can turn men’s hearts to God, for that means that something we can do can bring joy to him.

Finally, Paul turns the thoughts of the Corinthians to the gift of God in Jesus Christ, a gift whose wonder can never be exhausted and whose story can never be fully told; and, in so doing, he says to them, “Can you, who have been so generously treated by God, be anything else but generous to your fellow men?”

Before we go on to study 2 Cor.10-13 of our letter, let us remember what we have already seen in the introduction. There is a most surprising break between 2 Cor.9 and 2 Cor.10. Up to 2 Cor.9 everything seems to be going well. The breach is healed and the quarrel is over. 2 Cor.8-9 deal with the collection for the Church at Jerusalem, and, now that that practical matter is dealt with, we might expect Paul to draw to a close. Instead, we find four chapters which are the saddest and the sorest chapters Paul ever wrote. It makes us wonder how they got there.

Twice in 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of a severe letter that he had written, a letter so stern that at one time he almost regretted ever having written it (2 Cor.2:4; 2 Cor.7:8). That description does not at all fit 1 Corinthians. So we are left with two alternatives–either the severe letter is lost altogether or at least part of it is contained in these 2 Cor.10-13. All the likelihood is that 2 Cor.10-13 are the severe letter, and that, when Paul’s letters were being collected, it was placed here by mistake. To get the right order of things we really ought to read 2 Cor.10-13 before we read 2 Cor.1-9. We may well believe that we are reading here the letter which it hurt Paul most of all to write, and which was written to try to mend a situation which came near to breaking his heart.


2 Cor.10:1-6

It is I Paul who call upon you–and I am doing it in the gentleness and the sweet reasonableness of Christ–I, who, as you say, am a poor creature when I am with you, but a man of courage when I am absent. It is my prayer that, when I do come to you, I may not have to be bold with that confidence with which I reckon that I can boldly face some who reckon that we direct our conduct by purely human motives. It is true that we live in a human body, but for all that we do not carry on our campaign with human motives and resources (for the weapons of our campaign are not merely human weapons, but God has made them powerful to destroy fortresses). Our campaign is such that we can destroy plausible fallacies and all lofty-mindedness which raises itself up against the knowledge that God has given, such that we capture every intention and bring it into obedience to Christ, such that we are prepared to punish all disobedience, when your obedience has been fulfilled.

Right at the beginning of this passage are two words which set the whole tone which Paul wishes to use. He speaks of the gentleness and the sweet reasonableness of Christ.

Prautes (GSN4240), gentleness, is an interesting word. Aristotle defined it as the correct mean between being too angry and being never angry at all. It is the quality of the man whose anger is so controlled that he is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. It describes the man who is never angry at any personal wrong he may receive, but who is capable of righteous anger when he sees others wronged. By using that word Paul is saying at the very beginning of his stern letter that he is not carried away by personal anger, but is speaking with the strong gentleness of Jesus himself

The other word is even more illuminating. Sweet reasonableness is the Greek word epieikeia (GSN1932). The Greeks themselves defined epieikeia (GSN1932) as “that which is just and even better than just.” They described it as that quality which must enter in when justice, just because of its generality, is in danger of becoming unjust. There are times when strict justice can actually result in injustice. Sometimes real justice is not to insist on the letter of the law, but to let a higher quality enter into our decisions. The man who has epieikeia (GSN1932) is the man who knows that, in the last analysis, the Christian standard is not justice, but love. By using this word Paul is saying that he is not out for his rights and to insist on the letter of the law; but is going to deal with this situation with that Christlike love which transcends even the purest of human justice.

Now we have come to a section of the letter which is very hard to understand–and for this reason, that we are hearing only one side of the argument. We are hearing only Paul’s reply. We do not know accurately what the charges were which the Corinthians levelled against him; we have to deduce them from the answers which Paul gives. But we can at least try to make our deductions.

(i) It is clear that the Corinthians had charged Paul with being bold enough when he was not face to face with them but a pretty poor creature when actually there. They are saying that when he is absent he can write things that he has not the courage to say in their presence. Paul’s reply is that he prays that he may not have occasion to deal with them personally as he knows he is quite capable of doing. Letters are dangerous things. A man will often write with a bitterness and peremptoriness which he would never use to another person’s face. Exchange of letters can do a deal of harm which might well have been avoided by a face to face discussion. But Paul’s claim is that he would never write anything which he was not prepared to say.

(ii) It is clear that they charged him with arranging his conduct on human motives. Paul’s answer is that both his conduct and his power come from God. True, he is a man subject to all the limitations of manhood, but God is his guide and God is his strength. What makes this passage difficult to understand is that Paul uses the word flesh (sarx, GSN4561) in two different senses. (a) He uses it in the ordinary sense of the human body, flesh in its physical sense. “We walk,” he says, “in the flesh.” That simply means that he is, like anyone else, a human being. (b) But he also uses it in his own characteristic way for that part of human nature which gives a bridgehead to sin, that essential human weakness of life without God. So, he says, “We do not walk after, or according to, the flesh.” It is as if he said, “I am a human being with a human body, but I never allow myself to be dominated by purely human motives. I never try to live without God.” A man may live in the body and yet be guided by the Spirit of God.

Paul goes on to make two significant points.

(i) He says that he is equipped to deal with and to destroy all the plausible clevernesses of human wisdom and human pride. There is a simplicity which is a weightier argument than the most elaborate human cleverness. Once there was a house party at which Huxley, the great Victorian agnostic, was present. On the Sunday morning it was planned to go to church. Huxley said to a member of the party, “Suppose you don’t go to church; suppose you stay at home and tell me why you believe in Jesus.” The man said, “But you, with your cleverness, could demolish anything I might say.” Huxley said, “I don’t want you to argue. I want you just to tell me what this means to you.” So the man, in the simplest terms, told from his heart what Christ meant to him. When he was finished, there were tears in the great agnostic’s eyes. “I would give my right hand,” he said, “if I could only believe that.” It was not argument, but the utter simplicity of heartfelt sincerity which got home. In the last analysis it is not subtle cleverness which is most effective but simple sincerity.

(ii) Paul speaks of bringing every intention into captivity to Christ. Christ has an amazing way of capturing what was pagan and subduing it for his purposes. Max Warren tells of a custom of the natives in New Guinea. At certain times they have ritual songs and dances. They work themselves up into a frenzy and the ritual culminates in what are called “the murder songs,” in which they shout before God the names of the people they wish to kill. When the natives became Christian, they retained these customs and that ritual, but in the murder songs, it was no longer the names of the people they hated, but the names of the sins they hated, that they shouted before God and called on him to destroy. An old pagan custom had been captured for Christ. Jesus never wishes to take from us our own qualities and abilities and characteristics. He wishes to take them and to use them for himself. His invitation is to come to him with just what we have to offer and he will enable us, to make a finer use of ourselves than ever before.


2 Cor.10:7-18

Look at what lies in front of you. If anyone confidently believes that he belongs to Christ, let him examine his own case again, because, just as he belongs to Christ, so do we also. If I make what might look like excessive claims about our authority–that authority which the Lord gave us to upbuild you and not to destroy you–I will not be put to shame. And I am going to do just that very thing so that I may not seem, as it were, to be striking terror into you through a series of letters, because, to quote my opponents, “His letters are weighty and strong but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.” Let the man who makes statements such as that consider that, such as we are in speech through letters when we are absent, that very thing we are in deed when we are present. Far be it from us to include ourselves among or compare ourselves with some people who commend themselves, but when their only standard of measurement is to measure themselves by themselves, and when their comparison does not go beyond comparing themselves with themselves, they are not sensible. As for us, we will not boast beyond our measure, but we will boast according to the measure of the sphere God has apportioned to us as our measure, a sphere which extends as far as you. For we are not overreaching ourselves, as if our sphere did not reach to you, for indeed we were the first to bring the gospel of Christ to you. We do not boast beyond our measure, but we do cherish the hope, that, as your faith increases, we will be given a greater share of honour among you, in a sphere which belongs to us, and which will enable us to preach the gospel to the regions beyond, and not to boast about things which have already been done in someone else’s sphere. Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, for it is not the man who commends himself who is proved to be of sterling quality, but the man whom the Lord commends.

Paul continues to answer his critics; and we are faced with the same problem that we are hearing only one side of the argument and can only deduce what the criticisms were from Paul’s reply to them.

(i) It seems clear that at least some of Paul’s opponents asserted that he did not belong to Christ in the same way as they did. Perhaps they were still casting up at him the fact that once he had been the arch-persecutor of the Church. Perhaps they claimed special knowledge. Perhaps they claimed a special holiness. In any event they looked down on Paul and glorified themselves and their own relationship to Christ.

Any religion which makes a man look down upon his fellow men and think himself better than they, is no true religion. When revival came to the East African Churches in recent years, one of its features was the public confession of sin. While the natives willingly took part in that confession, Europeans tended to stand aloof, and one of the missionaries wrote, “It is felt that to hold back from it is to refuse to be identified with the fellowship of forgiven sinners. Europeans are often accused of being proud and unwilling to share fellowship in this way.” There can be no finer definition of the Church than a fellowship of forgiven sinners. When a man realizes that it is to such a fellowship he belongs there is no longer any room for pride. The trouble with the arrogant Christian is that he feels rather that Christ belongs to him than that he belongs to Christ.

(ii) It would seem that the Corinthians had actually sunk to taunting Paul about his personal appearance. His bodily presence, they jeered, was weak, and he was no speaker. It may well be that they were right. A description of Paul’s personal appearance has come down to us from a very early book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which dates back to about A.D. 200. It is so unflattering that it may well be true. It describes Paul as “a man of little stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows meeting, and with nose somewhat hooked, full of grace, for sometimes he appeared like a man and sometimes he had the face of an angel.” A little, balding, bandy-legged man, with a hooked nose and shaggy eyebrows–it is not a very impressive picture, and it may well be that the Corinthians made great play with it.

We might do well to remember that not seldom a great spirit has been lodged in a very humble body. William Wilberforce was responsible for the freeing of the slaves in the British Empire. He was so small and so frail that it seemed that even a strong wind might knock him down. But once Boswell heard him speak in public and afterwards said, “I saw what seemed to me a shrimp mount upon the table, but, as I listened, he grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale.” The Corinthians had sunk nearly to the ultimate depths of discourtesy and of unwisdom when they taunted Paul upon his personal appearance.

(iii) It seems that they accused Paul of making boastful claims to authority in a sphere in which his writ did not run. No doubt they said that he might try to play the master in other Churches, but not in Corinth. His blunt answer is that Corinth is well within his sphere for he was the first man to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul was a Rabbi and it may be that he was thinking of a claim that the Rabbis often used to make. They claimed and received a very special respect. They claimed that respect for a teacher should exceed respect for a parent, for, they said, a parent brings a child into the–life of this world, but a teacher brings a scholar into the life of the world to come. Surely no man had a greater claim to exercise authority in the Church of Corinth than the man who, under God, had been its founder.

(iv) Then Paul levels a charge at them. Ironically he says that he would never dream of comparing himself with those who are forever giving themselves testimonials, and then, with unerring precision, he puts his finger on the spot. They can give themselves testimonials only because their one standard of measurement is themselves and their one standard of comparison is with one another.

They had, as so many people have, the wrong standard of measurement. A girl may think herself a good pianist but let her go and compare herself with Solomon or Moiseiwitsch and she may change her mind. A man may think himself a good golfer but let him compare himself with Cotton or Hogan or Palmer or Nicklaus and he may change his mind. A man may think himself a good preacher but let him compare himself with one of the princes of the pulpit and he may feel that he never wishes to open his mouth in public again.

It is easy enough to say, “I am as good as the next man,” and no doubt it is true. But the point is, are we as good as Jesus Christ? He is our true rod of measurement and our proper standard of comparison and when we measure ourselves by him there is no room left for pride. “Self-praise,” says Paul, “is no honour.” It is not his own but Christ’s “Well done!” for which a man must seek.

Before we leave this passage we must look at a phrase which is characteristic of Paul’s heart. He wishes to get things straightened out at Corinth because he longs to go on to the regions beyond, where no man has yet carried the story of Christ. W. M. Macgregor used to say that Paul was haunted by the regions beyond. He never saw a ship riding at anchor or moored to the quay but he wished to board her and carry the good news to the regions beyond. He never saw a range of hills blue in the distance but he wished to cross it and to carry the story of Christ to the regions beyond.

Kipling has a poem called “The Explorer” which tells the story of another man who was haunted by the regions beyond.

“`There’s no sense in going further–it’s the edge of cultivation,’ So they said, and I believed it–broke my land and sowed my crop– Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop. Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes On one everlasting Whisper, day and night repeated– so: `Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the ranges– Something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!'”

That is precisely how Paul felt. It was said of a great evangelist that, as he walked the city streets, he was haunted by the tramp, tramp, tramp of the Christless millions. The man who loves Christ will always be haunted by the thought of the millions who have never known the Christ who means so much to him.


2 Cor.11:1-6

Would that you would bear with me in a little foolishness–but I know that you do bear with me. I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God, for I betrothed you to one husband, I wished to present a pure maiden to Christ. But I am afraid, that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your thoughts may be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity which look to Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, a Jesus whom we did not preach, if you take a different spirit, a spirit which you did not take, if you receive a different gospel, a gospel which you did not receive, you bear it excellently! Well, I reckon that I am in nothing inferior to these super-apostles. I may be quite untrained in speaking, but I am not untrained in knowledge, but, in fact, in everything and in all things we made the knowledge of God clear to you.

All through this section Paul has to adopt methods which are completely distasteful to him. He has to stress his own authority, to boast about himself and to keep comparing himself with those who are seeking to seduce the Corinthian Church; and he does not like it. He apologizes every time he has to speak in such a way, for he was not a man to stand on his dignity. It was said of a great man, “He never remembered his dignity until others forgot it.” But Paul knew that it was not really his dignity and honour that were at stake, but the dignity and the honour of Jesus Christ.

He begins by using a vivid picture from Jewish marriage customs. The idea of Israel as the bride of God is common in the Old Testament. “Your Maker,” said Isaiah, “is your husband.” (Isa.54:5). “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isa.62:5). So it was natural for Paul to use the metaphor of marriage and to think of the Corinthian Church as the bride of Christ.

At a Jewish wedding there were two people called the friends of the bridegroom, one representing the bridegroom and one the bride. They had many duties. They acted as liaisons between the bride and the bridegroom; they carried the invitations to the guests; but they had one particular responsibility, that of guaranteeing the chastity of the bride. That is what is in Paul’s thought here. In the marriage of Jesus Christ and the Corinthian Church he is the friend of the bridegroom. It is his responsibility to guarantee the chastity of the bride, and he will do all he can to keep the Corinthian Church pure and a fit bride for Jesus Christ.

There was a Jewish legend current in Paul’s time that, in the Garden of Eden, Satan had actually seduced Eve and that Cain was the child of their union. Paul is thinking of that old legend when he fears that the Corinthian Church is being seduced from Christ.

It is clear that there were in Corinth men who were preaching their own version of Christianity and insisting that it was superior to Paul’s. It is equally clear that they regarded themselves as very special people–super-apostles, Paul calls them. Ironically Paul says that the Corinthians listen splendidly to them. If they give them such an excellent hearing will they not listen to him?

Then he draws the contrast between these false apostles and himself He is quite untrained in speaking. The word he uses is idiotes (GSN2399). This word began by meaning a private individual who took no part in public life. It went on to mean someone with no technical training, what we would call a layman. Paul says that these false but arrogant apostles may be far better equipped orators than he is; they may be the professionals and he the mere amateur in words; they may be the men with the academic qualifications and he the mere layman. But the fact remains, however unskilled he may be in technical oratory, he knows what he is talking about and they do not.

There is a famous story which tells how a company of people were dining together. After dinner it was agreed that each should recite something. A well-known actor rose and, with all the resources of elocution and dramatic art, he declaimed the twenty-third psalm and sat down to tremendous applause. A quiet man followed him. He too began to recite the twenty-third psalm and at first there was rather a titter. But before he had ended there was a stillness that was more eloquent than any applause. When he had spoken the last words there was silence, and then the actor leant across and said, “Sir, I know the psalm, but you know the shepherd.”

Paul’s opponents might have all the resources of oratory and he might be unskilled in speech; but he knew what he was talking about because he knew the real Christ.


2 Cor.11:7-15

Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you should be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you for nothing? I plundered other Churches and took pay from them in order to render service to you. And when I was present with you and when I had been reduced to want I did not squeeze charity out of any man. The brothers who came from Macedonia again supplied my want. In everything I watched that I should not be a burden on you, and I will go on doing so. As Christ’s truth is in me, as far as I am concerned this boast will not be silenced in the regions of Achaea. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I love you. But I do this and I will continue to do it, in order to eliminate the opportunity of those who wish an opportunity to prove themselves the same as we are–and to boast about it. Such men are false apostles. They are crafty workers. They masquerade as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is then no great wonder if his servants too masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their deeds deserve.

Here again Paul is meeting a charge that has been levelled against him. This time the charge is clear. It was rankling in the minds of the Corinthian Church that Paul had refused to accept any support from them whatsoever. When he was in want it was the Philippian Church who had supplied his needs (compare Php.4:10-18).

Before we go further with this passage, we must ask, how could Paul maintain this attitude of utter independence with regard to the Corinthian Church and yet accept gifts from the Philippian Church? He was not being inconsistent and the reason was a very practical and excellent one. As far as we know, Paul never accepted a gift from the Church at Philippi when he was in Philippi. He did so only after he had moved on. The reason is clear. So long as he was in any given place he had to be utterly independent, under obligation to no man. It is hardly possible to accept a man’s bounty and then condemn him or preach against him. When he was in the middle of the Philippian community Paul could not be beholden to any man. It was different when he had moved on. He was then free to take what the love of the Philippians chose to give, for then it would commit him to no man or party. It would have been impossible for Paul, when in Corinth, to receive Corinthian support and at the same time maintain the independence which the situation demanded. He was not in the least inconsistent; he was only wise.

Why were the Corinthians so annoyed about his refusal? For one thing, according to the Greek way of thinking, it was beneath a free man’s dignity to work with his hands. The dignity of honest toil was forgotten, and the Corinthians did not understand Paul’s point of view. For another thing, in the Greek world, teachers were supposed to make money out of teaching. There never was an age in which a man who could talk could make so much money. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, paid Verrius Flaccus, the rhetorician, an annual salary of 100,000 sesterces, which, in present day purchasing power was the equivalent of a quarter of a million pounds. Every town was entitled to grant complete exemption from all civic burdens and taxes to a certain number of teachers of rhetoric and literature. Paul’s independence was something that the Corinthians could not understand.

As for the false apostles, they, too, made Paul’s independence a charge against him. They took support all right, and they claimed that the fact that they took it was a proof that they really were apostles. No doubt they maintained that Paul refused to take anything because his teaching was not worth anything. But in their heart of hearts they were afraid that people would see through them, and they wanted to drag Paul down to their own level of acquisitiveness so that his independence would no longer form a contrast to their greed.

Paul accused them of masquerading as apostles of Christ. The Jewish legend was that Satan had once masqueraded as one of the angels who sang praises to God and that it was then that Eve had seen him and been seduced.

It is still true that many masquerade as Christians, some consciously but still more unconsciously. Their Christianity is a superficial dress in which there is no reality. The Synod of the Church in Uganda drew up the following four tests by which a man may examine himself and test the reality of his Christianity.

(i) Do you know salvation through the Cross of Christ?

(ii) Are you growing in the power of the Holy Spirit, in prayer, meditation and the knowledge of God?

(iii) Is there a great desire to spread the Kingdom of God by example, and by preaching and teaching?

(iv) Are you bringing others to Christ by individual searching, by visiting, and by public witness?

With the conscience of others we have nothing to do, but we can test our own Christianity lest our faith also should be not a reality but a masquerade.


2 Cor.11:16-33

Again I say, let no one think me a fool. But, even if you do, bear with me, even if it is as a fool that you do bear with me, so that I too may boast a little. I am not saying what I am saying as if talk like this was inspired by the Lord, but I am talking with boastful confidence as in foolishness. Since many boast about their human qualifications I too will boast, for you–because you are sensible people–suffer fools gladly. I know that this is true because you suffer it if someone reduces you to abject slavery, if someone devours you, if someone ensnares you, if someone behaves arrogantly to you, if someone strikes you on the face. It is in dishonour that I speak, because of course we are weak! All the same, if anyone makes daring claims–it is in foolishness I am speaking–I too can make them. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? This is madman’s raving–I am more so. Here is my record–In toils more exceedingly, in prisons more exceedingly, in stripes beyond measure, in deaths often; at the hands of the Jews five times I have received the forty stripes less one; three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day have I been adrift on the deep. I have lived in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of brigands, in perils which came from my own countrymen, in perils which came from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils upon the sea, in perils among false brethren, in labour and toil, in many a sleepless night, in hunger and in thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Apart altogether from the things I have omitted, there is the strain that is on me every day, my anxiety for all the Churches. Is there anyone’s weakness which I do not share? Is there anyone who stumbles and I do not bum with shame? If I must boast, I will boast of the things of my weakness. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he who is blessed forever, knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, Aretas, the king’s governor, set a guard upon the city of the Damascenes to arrest me, and I was let down in a basket through an opening through the wall, and escaped out of his hands.

All against his will Paul is forced to produce his credentials as an apostle. He feels that the whole thing is folly, and, when it comes to comparing himself with other people, it seems to him like madness. Nevertheless, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the gospel that he preaches, it has to be done.

It is clear that his opponents were Jewish teachers who claimed to have a gospel and an authority far beyond his. He sketches them in a few lightning strokes, when he speaks about what the Corinthians are willing to endure at their hands. They reduce the Corinthians to abject slavery: This they do by trying to persuade them to submit to circumcision and the thousand and one petty rules and regulations of the Jewish law, and so to abandon the glorious liberty of the gospel of grace. They devour them. The Jewish rabbis at their worst could be shamelessly rapacious. Theoretically they held that a rabbi must take no money for teaching and must win his bread by the work of his hands, but they also taught that it was work of exceptional merit to support a rabbi and that he who did so made sure of a place in the heavenly academy. They behaved arrogantly. They lorded it over the Corinthians. In point of fact the rabbis demanded a respect greater than that given to parents, and actually claimed that, if a man’s father and teacher were both captured by brigands, he must ransom his teacher first, and only then his father. They struck them on the face. This may describe insulting behaviour, or it may well be meant quite literally (compare Ac.23:2). The Corinthians had come to the curious stage of seeing in the very insolence of the Jewish teachers a guarantee of their apostolic authority.

The false teachers have made three claims which Paul asserts that he can equal.

They claim to be Hebrews. This word was specially used of the Jews who still remembered and spoke their ancient Hebrew language in its Aramaic form, which was its form in the time of Paul. There were Jews scattered all over the world, for instance there were one million of them in Alexandria. Many of these Jews of the dispersion had forgotten their native tongue and spoke Greek; and the Jews of Palestine, who had preserved their native tongue, always looked down on them. Quite likely Paul’s opponents had been saying, “This Paul is a citizen of Tarsus. He is not like us a pure-bred Palestinian but one of these Greekling Jews.” Paul says, “No! I too am one who has never forgotten the purity of his ancestral tongue.” They could not claim superiority on that score.

They claim to be Israelites. The word described a Jew as a man who was a member of God’s chosen people. The basic sentence of the Jewish creed, the sentence with which every synagogue service opens, runs, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut.6:4). No doubt these hostile Jews were saying, “This Paul never lived in Palestine. He has slipped away out of the chosen people, living in Greek surroundings in Cilicia.” Paul says, “No! I am as pure an Israelite as any man. My lineage is the lineage of the people of God.” They cannot claim superiority on that point.

They claim to be descendants of Abraham. By that they meant that they were Abraham’s direct descendants and therefore heirs to the great promise that God had made to him (Gen.12:1-3). No doubt they claimed that this Paul was not of as pure descent as they. “No!” says Paul. “I am of as pure descent as any man” (Php.3:5-6). They had no claim to superiority here either.

Then Paul sets out his credentials as an apostle, and the only claim he would put forward is the catalogue of his sufferings for Christ. When Mr. Valiant-for-truth was “taken with a summons” and knew that he must go to God, he said, “I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I am got hither yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought his battles who will now be my rewarder.” Like Mr. Valiant-for-truth, Paul found his only credentials in his scars.

When we read the catalogue of all that Paul had endured, the one thing that must strike us is how little we know about him. When he wrote this letter, he was in Ephesus. That is to say we have reached only as far as Ac.19; and if we try to check this catalogue of endurance against the narrative of that book, we find that not one quarter of it is there. We see that Paul was an even greater man than perhaps we thought, for Acts merely skims the surface of what he did and endured.

Out of this long catalogue we can take only three items.

(i) “Three times,” says Paul, “I have been beaten with rods.” This was a Roman punishment. The attendants of the magistrates were called the lictors and they were equipped with rods of birch wood with which the guilty criminal was chastised. Three times that had happened to Paul. It should never have happened to him at all, because, under Roman law, it was a crime to scourge a Roman citizen. But, when the mob was violent and the magistrate was weak, Paul, Roman citizen though he was, had suffered this.

(ii) “Five times,” says Paul, “I received the forty stripes less one.” This was a Jewish punishment. The Jewish law lays down the regulations for such scourging (Deut.25:1-3). The normal penalty was forty stripes, and on no account must that number be exceeded, or the scourger himself was subject to scourging. Therefore they always stopped at thirty-nine. That is why scourging was known as “the forty less one.” The detailed regulations for scourging are in the Mishnah, which is the book in which the Jewish traditional law was codified. “They bind his two hands to a pillar on either side, and the minister of the synagogue lays hold on his garments–if they are torn, they are tom, if they are utterly rent, they are utterly rent–so that he bares his chest. A stone is set behind him on which the minister of the synagogue stands with a strap of calf-hide in his hand, doubled and re-doubled, and two other straps that rise and fall thereto. The handpiece of the strap is one handbreadth long and one handbreadth wide, and its end must reach to his navel (i.e. when the victim is struck on the shoulder the end of the strap must reach the navel). He gives him one third of the stripes in front and two thirds behind, and he may not strike him when he is standing or when he is sitting but only when he is bending down … and he that smites smites with one hand and with all his might. If he dies under his hand, the scourger is not culpable. But if he gives him one stripe too many, and he dies, he must escape into exile because of him.” That is what Paul suffered five times, a scourging so severe that it was liable to kill a man.

(iii) Again and again Paul speaks of the dangers of his travels. It is true that in his time the roads and the sea were safer than they had ever been, but they were still dangerous. On the whole, the ancient peoples did not relish the sea. “How pleasant it is,” says Lucretius, “to stand on the shore and watch the poor devils of sailors having a rough time.” Seneca writes to a friend, “You can persuade me into almost anything now for I was recently persuaded to travel by sea.” Men regarded a sea voyage as taking one’s life in one’s hands. As for the roads, the brigands were still here. “A man,” says Epictetus, “has heard that the road is infested by robbers. He does not dare to venture on it alone, but waits for company–a legate, or a quaestor, or a proconsul–and joining him he passes safely on the road.” But there would be no official company “or Paul. “Think,” said Seneca, “any day a robber might cut your throat.” It was the commonest thing for a traveller to be caught and held to ransom. If ever a man was an adventurous soul, that man was Paul.

In addition to all this there was his anxiety for all the Churches. This includes the burden of the daily administration of the Christian communities; but it means more than that. Myers in his poem, St. Paul, makes Paul speak of,

“Desperate tides of the whole great world’s anguish Forced thro’ the channels of a single heart.”

Paul bore the sorrows and the troubles of his people on his heart.

This passage comes to a strange ending. On the face of it, it would seem that the escape from Damascus was an anti-climax. The incident is referred to in Ac.9:23-25. The wall of Damascus was wide enough to drive a carriage along it. Many of the houses overhung it and it must have been from one of these that Paul was let down. Why does he so directly and definitely mention this incident? It is most likely because it rankled. Paul was the kind of man who would find this clandestine exit from Damascus worse than a scourging. He must have hated with all his great heart to run away as a fugitive in the night. His bitterest humiliation was to fail to look his enemies in the face.


2 Cor.12:1-10

I must continue to boast. It is not good for me to do so, all the same I will come to visions and revelations given to me by the Lord. I know a man in Christ, who, fourteen years ago–whether it was in the body I do not know; whether it was out of the body I do not know; God knows–was caught up to the third heaven. And I know that this man about whom I am speaking–whether it was with the body or without the body, I do not know; God knows–was caught up to Paradise and heard words which can never be uttered, which it is not lawful for a man to speak. It is about such a man that I will boast. About myself I will not boast, for, if I wish to boast, I will not be such a fool, for I will speak the truth. But I forbear to boast in case anyone forms a judgment about me beyond what he sees in me and hears from me. And because of the surpassing nature of the revelation granted to me–the reason was that I might not become exalted with pride–there was given to me a stake in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I might not be exalted with pride. Three times I prayed urgently to the Lord about this, beseeching him that it might depart from me. And he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” So it is with the greatest gladness that I boast in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may pitch its tent upon me. Therefore I rejoice in weaknesses, in insults, in inescapable things, in persecutions, in straitened circumstances, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

If we have any sensitiveness, we should read this passage with a certain reverence, for in it Paul lays bare his heart and shows us at one and the same time his glory and his pain.

All against his will he is still setting out his credentials, and he tells of an experience at which we can only wonder and which we cannot even try to probe. In the strangest way he seems to stand outside himself and look at himself. “I know a man,” he says. The man is himself and yet Paul can look at the man who had this amazing experience with a kind of wondering detachment. For the mystic, the great aim of all religious experience is the vision of God and union with him.

The mystic always has aimed at that moment of wonder when “the seer and the Seen are one.” In their traditions the Jews said that four rabbis had had this vision of God. Ben Azai had seen the glory and had died. Ben Soma beheld it and went mad. Acher saw it and “cut up the young plants,” that is, in spite of the vision he became a heretic and ruined the garden of truth. Akiba alone ascended in peace and in peace came back. We cannot even guess what happened to Paul. We need not form theories about the number of heavens because of the fact that he speaks of the third heaven. He simply means that his spirit rose to an unsurpassable ecstasy in its nearness to God.

One lovely thing we may note, for it will help a little. The word Paradise comes from a Persian word which means a walled-garden. When a Persian king wished to confer a very special honour on someone specially dear to him, he made him a companion of the garden and gave him the right to walk in the royal gardens with him in intimate companionship. In this experience, as never before and never again, Paul had been the companion of God.

After the glory came the pain. The King James Version and the Revised Standard Versions speak of the thorn in the flesh. The word (skolops, GSN4647) can mean thorn but more likely it means stake. Sometimes criminals were impaled upon a sharp stake. It was a stake like that that Paul felt was twisting in his body. What was it? Many answers have been given. First we look at those which great men have held but which, in face of the evidence, we must discard.

(i) The thorn has been taken to mean spiritual temptations; the temptation to doubt and to shirk the duties of the apostolic life, and the sting of conscience when temptation conquered. That was Calvin’s view.

(ii) It has been taken to mean the opposition and persecution which he had to face, the constant battle with those who tried to undo his work. That was Luther’s view.

(iii) It has been taken to mean carnal temptations. When the monks and the hermits shut themselves up in their monasteries and their cells they found that the last instinct that could be tamed was that of sex. They wished to eliminate it but it haunted them. They held that Paul was like that; and this is the common Roman Catholic view to this day.

None of these solutions can be right, for three reasons. (a) The very word “stake” indicates an almost savage pain. (b) The whole picture before us is one of physical suffering. (c) Whatever the thorn was, it was intermittent, for, although it sometimes prostrated Paul, it never kept him wholly from his work. So then let us look at the other suggestions.

(iv) It has been suggested that the thorn was Paul’s physical appearance. “His bodily presence is weak” (2 Cor.10:10). It has been suggested that he suffered from some disfigurement which made him ugly and hindered his work. But that does not account for the sheer pain that must have been there.

(v) One of the commonest solutions is epilepsy. It is painful and recurrent, and between attacks the sufferer can go about his business. It produced visions and trances such as Paul experienced. It can be repellent; in the ancient world it was attributed to demons. In the ancient world when people saw an epileptic they spat to ward off the evil demon. In Gal.4:14 Paul says that when the Galatians saw his infirmity they did not reject him. The Greek word literally means you did not spit at me. But this theory has consequences which are hard to accept. It would mean that Paul’s visions were epileptic trances, and it is hard to believe that the visions which changed the world were due to epileptic attacks.

(vi) The oldest of all theories is that Paul suffered from severe and prostrating headaches. Both Tertullian and Jerome believed that.

(vii) That may well lead us to the truth, for still another theory is that Paul suffered from eye trouble and this would explain the headaches. After the glory on the Damascus Road passed, he was blind (Ac.9:9). It may be that his eyes never recovered again. Paul said of the Galatians that they would have plucked out their eyes and would have given them to him (Gal.4:15). At the end of Galatians he writes, “See in what large letters I am writing to you” (Gal.6:11), as if he was describing the great sprawling characters of a man who could hardly see.

(viii) By far the most likely thing is that Paul suffered from chronically recurrent attacks of a certain virulent malarial fever which haunted the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean. The natives of the country, when they wished to harm an enemy, prayed to their gods that he should be “burnt up” with this fever. One who has suffered from it describes the headache that accompanies it as being like “a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead.” Another speaks of “the grinding, boring pain in one temple, like the dentist’s drill–the phantom wedge driven in between the jaws,” and says that when the thing became acute it “reached the extreme point of human endurance.” That in truth deserves the description of a thorn in the flesh, and even of a stake in the flesh. The man who endured so many other sufferings had this agony to contend with all the time.

Paul prayed that it might be taken from him, but God answered that prayer as he answers so many prayers–he did not take the thing away but gave Paul strength to bear it. That is how God works. He does not spare us things, but makes us able to conquer them.

To Paul came the promise and the reality of the all-sufficient grace. Now let us see from his life some few of the things for which that grace was sufficient.

(i) It was sufficient for physical weariness. It made him able to go on. John Wesley preached 42,000 sermons. He averaged 4,500 miles a year. He rode 60 to 70 miles a day and preached three sermons a day on an average. When he was 83 he wrote in his diary, “I am a wonder to myself. I am never tired, either with preaching, writing, or travelling.” That was the work of the all-sufficient grace.

(ii) It was sufficient for physical pain. It made him able to bear the cruel stake. Once a man went to visit a girl who was in bed dying of an incurable and a most painful disease. He took with him a little book of cheer for those in trouble, a sunny book, a happy book, a laughing book. “Thank you very much,” she said, “but I know this book.” “Have you read it already?” asked the visitor. The girl answered, “I wrote it.” That was the work of the all-sufficient grace.

(iii) It was sufficient for opposition. All his life Paul was up against it and all his life he never gave in. No amount of opposition could break him or make him turn back. That was the work of the all-sufficient grace.

(iv) It made him able, as all this letter shows, to face slander. There is nothing so hard to face as misinterpretation and cruel misjudgment. Once a man flung a pail of water over Archelaus the Macedonian. He said nothing at all. And when a friend asked him how he could bear it so serenely, he said, “He threw the water not on me, but on the man he thought I was.” The all-sufficient grace made Paul care not what men thought him to be but what God knew him to be.

It is the glory of the gospel that in our weakness we may find this wondrous grace, for always man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.


2 Cor.12:11-18

I have become a fool–you forced me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, not by myself. I am in no way inferior to the super-apostles, even if I am nothing. The signs of an apostle have been wrought among you in all endurance, with signs and wonders and deeds of power. In what have you been surpassed by the rest of the churches, except that I have not squeezed charity out of you? Forgive me for this sin. Look you! I am ready to come to you for the third time, and I still will take no charity from you. It is not your money I want, it is you. Children should not have to accumulate money for their parents, but parents for children. Most gladly I will spend and be spent to the uttermost for your lives. If I love you to excess, am I to be loved the less for that? But, suppose you say that I myself was not a burden to you, but that, because I was a crafty character, I snared you by guile. Of those I sent to you, did I through any of them take advantage of you? I exhorted Titus to go to you, and with him I despatched our brother. Did Titus take any advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? In the same steps?

This passage, in which Paul is coming near to the end of his defence, reads like the words of a man who has put out some tremendous effort and is now weary. It almost seems that Paul is limp with the effort that he has made.

Once again he speaks with distaste of this whole wretched business of self-justification; but the thing has got to be gone through. That he should be discredited might be a small thing, but that his gospel should be rendered ineffective is something that cannot be allowed.

(i) First of all, he claims that he is every bit as good an apostle as his opponents with their claims to be super-apostles. And his claim is based on one thing–the effectiveness of his ministry. When John the Baptist sent his messengers to ask Jesus if he really was the promised one or if they must look for another, Jesus’ answer was, “Go back and tell John what is happening” (Lk.7:18-22). When Paul wants to guarantee the reality of the gospel which he preached in Corinth, he makes a list of sins and sinners and then adds the flashing sentence, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor.6:9-11). Once Dr. Chalmers was congratulated on a great speech to a crowded assembly. “Yes,” he said, “but what did it do?” Effectiveness is the proof of reality. The reality of a Church is not seen in the splendour of its buildings or the elaborateness of its worship or the wealth of its givings or even the size of its congregations; it is seen in changed lives, and, if there are no changed lives, the essential element of reality is missing. The one standard by which Paul would have his apostleship judged was its ability to bring the life-changing grace of Jesus Christ to men.

(ii) It must have sorely rankled with the Corinthians that Paul would accept nothing from them, for again and again he returns to that charge. Here he lays down again one of the supreme principles of Christian giving. “It is not your money I want,” he says, “it is you.” The giving which does not give itself is always a poor thing, There are debts that we can discharge by paying money, but there are others in which money is the least of it.

H. L. Gee somewhere tells of a tramp who came begging to a good woman’s door. She went to get something to give him and found that she had no change in the house. She went to him and said, “I have not a penny of small change. I need a loaf of bread. Here is a pound note. Go and buy the loaf and bring me back the change and I will give you something.” The man executed the commission and returned and she gave him a small coin. He took it with tears in his eyes. “It’s not the money,” he said, “it’s the way you trusted me. No one ever trusted me like that before, and I can’t thank you enough.” It is easy to say that the woman took a risk that only a soft-hearted fool would take, but she had given that man more than money, she had given him something of herself by giving her trust.

Turgeniev tells how one day he was stopped on the street by a beggar. He felt in his pocket; he had absolutely no money with him. Impulsively he stretched out his hand, “My brother,” he said, “I can give you nothing but this.” The beggar said, “You called me brother; you took my hand; that too is a gift.” The comfortable way to discharge one’s duty to the Church, to the charities which help our fellow men, to the poor and the needy, is to give a sum of money and have done with it. It is not nothing, but it is far from everything, for in all true giving the giver must give not only his substance but himself.

(iii) It seems that the Corinthians had had one last charge against Paul. They could not say that he had ever taken any advantage of them; not even their malignancy could find any grounds for that. But they seem to have hinted that quite possibly some of the money collected for the poor of Jerusalem had stuck to the fingers of Titus and of Paul’s other emissary and that Paul had got his share that way. The really malicious mind will stick at nothing to find a ground of criticism. Paul’s loyalty to his friends leaps to defend them. It is not always safe to be the friend of a great man; It is easy to become involved in his troubles. Happy is the man who has supporters whom he can trust as he would trust his own soul. Paul had followers like that. Christ needs them, too.


2 Cor.12:19-21

You have been thinking for a long time that it is to you that we have been making our defence. It is before God, in Christ, that we speak. All that we have said, beloved, is for your upbuilding, for I am afraid, in case, when I come, I may find you not such as I wish that you should be, and that I should be found by you not such as you wish me to be. I am afraid that, when I come, there may be amongst you strife, envy, outbursts of anger, the factious spirit, slanderings, whisperings, all kinds of conceit and disorder. I am afraid that, when I come, God may humiliate me again in your presence and that I may have to mourn for many of those who sinned before and who have not repented of the impurity and fornication and uncleanness which they committed.

As he comes near the end of his defence one thing strikes Paul. All this citing of his qualifications and all this self apology may look as if he cared a great deal for what men thought of him. Nothing could be further from the truth. So long as Paul knew himself to be right with God, he did not greatly care what men thought, and what he has said must not be misconstrued as an attempt to win their approval. On one occasion Abraham Lincoln and his counsellors had taken an important decision. One of the counsellors said, “Well, Mr. President, I hope that God is on our side.” Lincoln answered, “What I am worried about is, not if God is on our side, but if we are on God’s side.” Paul’s supreme aim was to stand right with God no matter what men thought or said.

So he moves on to the visit which he intends to pay to Corinth. Rather grimly he says that he hopes that he will not find them as he would not wish them to be, for, if that happens, they will assuredly find him what they would not wish him to be. There is a certain threat there. He does not want to take stern measures, but, if necessary, he will not shrink from them. Then Paul goes on to list what might be called the marks of the unchristian Church.

There is strife (eris, GSN2054). This is a word of battles. It denotes rivalry and competition, discord about place and prestige. It is the characteristic of the man who has forgotten that only he who humbles himself can be exalted.

There is envy (zelos, GSN2205). This is a great word which has come down in the world. Originally it described a great emotion, that of the man who sees a fine life or a fine action and is moved to emulation. But emulation can so easily become envy, the desire to have what is not ours to have, the spirit which grudges others the possession of anything denied to us. Emulation in fine things is a noble quality; but envy is the characteristic of a mean and little mind.

There are outbursts of anger (thumoi, GSN2372). This does not denote a settled and prolonged wrath. It denotes sudden explosions of passionate anger. It is the kind of anger which Basil described as the intoxication of the soul, that sweeps a man into doing things for which afterwards he is bitterly sorry. The ancients said themselves that such outbursts were more characteristic of beasts than men. The beast cannot control itself; man ought to be able to do so; and when passion ]runs away with him he is more kin to the unreasoning and undisciplined beast than he is to thinking man.

There is the factious spirit (eritheia). Originally this word simply described work which is done for pay, the work of the day labourer. It went on to describe the work which is done for no other motives than for pay. It describes that utterly selfish and self-centred ambition which has no idea of service and which is in everything for what it can get out of it for itself.

There are slanderings and whisperings (katalaliai (GSN2636) and psithurismoi, GSN5587). The first word describes the open, loud-mouthed attack, the insults flung out in public, the public vilification of some person whose views are different. The second is a much nastier word. It describes the whispering campaign of malicious gossip, the slanderous story murmured in someone’s ear, the discreditable tale passed on as a spicy secret. With the first kind of slander a man can at least deal because it is a frontal attack. With the second kind he is often helpless to deal because it is an underground movement which will not face him, and an insidious poisoning of the atmosphere whose source he cannot attack because he does not know it.

There is conceit (phusioseis, GSN5450). Within the Church a man should certainly magnify his office, but, equally certainly, he should never magnify himself. When men see our good deeds, it is not we whom they should glorify but the Father in heaven whom we serve and who has enabled us to do them. There is disorder (akatastasiai, GSN0181). This is the word for tumults, disorders, anarchy. There is one danger which ever besets a Church. A Church is a democracy, but it may become a democracy run mad. A democracy is not a place where every man has a right to do what he likes; it is a place where people enter into a fellowship in which the watchword is not independent isolation but interdependent togetherness.

Finally there are the sins of which even yet some of the recalcitrant Corinthians may not have repented. There is uncleanness (akatharsia, GSN0167). The word means everything which would unfit a man to enter into God’s presence. It describes the life muddied with wallowing in the world’s ways. Kipling prayed,

“Teach us to rule ourselves alway, Controlled and cleanly night and day.”

Akatharsia (GSN0167) is the very opposite of that clean purity.

There is fornication (porneia, GSN4202). The Corinthians lived in a society which did not regard adultery as a sin and expected a man to take his pleasures where he could. It was so easy to be infected and to relapse into what appealed so much to the lower side of human nature. They must lay hold on that hope which can,

“Purge the soul from sense and sin, As Christ himself is pure.”

There was uncleanness (aselgeia, GSN0766). Here is an untranslatable word. It does not solely mean sexual uncleanness; it is sheer wanton insolence. As Basil defined it, “It is that attitude of the soul which has never borne and never will bear the pain of discipline.” It is the insolence that knows no restraint, that has no sense of the decencies of things, that will dare anything that wanton caprice demands, that is careless of public opinion and its own good name so long as it gets what it wants. Josephus ascribes it to Jezebel who built a temple to Baal in the very city of God itself. The basic Greek sin was hubris (GSN5196), and hubris is that proud insolence which gives neither God nor man his place. Aselgeia (GSN0766) is the insolently selfish spirit, which is lost to honour, and which will take what it wants, where it wants, in shameless disregard of God and man.


2 Cor.13:1-14

For the third time I am coming to you. Everything will be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses. To those who have already sinned and to all others I have already said, and I now say, just as I said it when I was with you on my second visit, now I say it while I am absent, that if I come to you again, I will not spare you. I will take decisive action because you are looking for a proof that Christ really is speaking in me, Christ who is not weak where you are concerned, but who is powerful among you. True, he was crucified in weakness, but he is alive by the power of God. Keep testing yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Keep proving yourselves. Or do you not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you–unless in any way you are rejected? But we pray to God that you should do no evil. It is not that we want a chance to prove our authority. What we do want is that you should do the fine thing even if that means that there will be no opportunity for us to prove our authority. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but we must do everything for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak while you are strong. For this too we pray–your complete perfecting. The reason why I write these things when I am absent is so that when I am present I may not have to deal sternly with you according to the authority which the Lord gave me to use to build up and not to destroy.

Finally, brothers, farewell! Work your way onwards towards perfection. Accept the exhortation we have offered you. Live in agreement with each other. Be at peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet each other with a holy kiss.

All God’s dedicated people send you their greetings.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

In this last chapter of the severe letter Paul finishes with four things.

(i) He finishes with a warning. He is coming again to Corinth and this time there will be no more loose talk and reckless statements. Whatever is said will be witnessed and proved once and for all. To put it in our modern idiom, Paul insists that there must be a show down. The ill situation must drag on no longer. He knew that there comes a time when trouble must be faced.

(ii) He finishes with a wish. It is his wish that they should do the fine thing. If they do, he will never need to exert his authority, and that will be no disappointment to him but a deep and real joy. Paul never wanted to show his authority for the sake of showing it. Everything he did was to build up and not to destroy. Discipline must always be aimed to lift a man up and not to knock him down.

(iii) He finishes with a hope. He has three hopes for the Corinthians. (a) He hopes that they will go onwards to perfection. There can be no standing still in the Christian life. The man who is not advancing is slipping back. The Christian is a man who is ever on the way to God, and therefore each day, by the grace of Christ, he must be a little more fit to stand God’s scrutiny. (b) He hopes that they will listen to the exhortation he has given them. It takes a big man to listen to hard advice. We would often be a great deal better off if we would stop talking about what we want and begin listening to the voices of the wise, and especially to the voice of Jesus Christ. (c) He hopes that they will live in agreement and in peace. No congregation can worship the God of peace in the spirit of bitterness. Men must love each other before their love for God has any reality.

(iv) Finally, he finishes with a blessing. After the severity, the struggle and the debate, there comes the serenity of the benediction. One of the best ways of making peace with our enemies is to pray for them, for no one can hate a man and pray for him at the same time. And so we leave the troubled story of Paul and the Church of Corinth with the benediction ringing in our ears. The way has been hard, but the last word is peace.




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