In the previous chapter we examined Paul's explanation regarding the accusation by some brethren at Corinth that he was being fickle and insincere because he had changed his travel plans without telling them.
Paul had intended to visit the Corinthian brethren while traveling through their region. When he heard of the trouble they were having, he sent them a letter which contained strong teaching concerning their conduct, and a revised travel plan which would delay his coming. They changed their behavior as a result of this letter but found out about his original travel plan and accused him of insincerity. The Apostle then wrote a second letter and in it described his original plan, but explained that a change was made in order to give them time to respond to his first letter. He also reminded these people of his work among them which was above reproach and the fact that as a chosen Apostle of Jesus he was not insincere, his words and work confirming this.
After dealing with this accusation Paul moves on to a description of his ministry and a comparison of his work to that of the false teachers who were the ones promoting these allegations in the first place.
Apostolic Ministry — II Corinthians 2:12-6:10
More Travel Explanations
12Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.
In addition to not wanting to hurt them with an early arrival, Paul was also looking for his young assistant, Titus, and travelled through Macedonia searching for him. This was another example of the suffering he experienced as an Apostle: anxiety over the welfare of fellow workers.
Paul Compares Ministries
14But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
Paul changes the subject here by providing a beautiful image using Greek ideas and culture to describe his ministry among them. The Greek games would see the winner wear a laurel scented wreathe on his head while running through the crowds in a victory parade. Paul uses this familiar imagery to describe the ministry of Apostles. He explains that God leads them everywhere to parade the victory of Christ and the gospel. Their lives are the aroma that people are aware of when they come in contact with them. For those who accept the gospel, the aroma is sweet because it smells of forgiveness, joy, fellowship and love. For those who reject the gospel, however, the aroma is of disobedience, condemnation, suffering and death.
Paul is able to accomplish several things with this one passage:
- Describe in Greek terms the effect of the gospel on believers and nonbelievers.
- Describe the kind of life and influence the Apostles have wherever they go.
- Encourage the brethren to a lifestyle that imitates Jesus' life and thus produces the "aroma" of Christ's love, purity and godliness.
- Set the stage for a comparison of Paul's ministry and teaching against that of the teachers in Corinth who were causing trouble in the church (verse 17).
Comparison of Ministries
Ministry of Law vs. Ministry of Spirit
1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? 2You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?
- II Corinthians 3:1-8
The first comparison Paul makes is between the Holy Spirit and the Law of Moses. He says that his ministry is powered by the Holy Spirit and theirs by the Law of Moses. The example he cites to demonstrate this difference is that they were preaching that a believer needed to be circumcised, among other things, in order to become a Christian. These teachers were returning to ceremonies and duties that belonged to Moses and the Law (their thinking was that since Judaism came before Christianity, one should adhere to Jewish law and custom before becoming a Christian).
Paul, on the other hand, was preaching the gospel of Jesus which offered not only forgiveness through His cross, but also spiritual power, renewal and life through the agency of the Holy Spirit that indwelled every believer at baptism (Acts 2:38). Through his Apostolic ministry Paul was administering the substance (power) of God. The false teachers were trying to enforce the shadow and preview of things that were promised (things given to the Jews to prepare them for the eventual coming of the Messiah) contained in ceremonies and traditions which never had the ability to save or empower in the first place.
Their ministry of the Law and Moses was incomplete without Christ. Paul's Apostolic ministry was the final work of God that began with Moses and the Law (this was true), but finished by Christ and the giving of the Spirit. This Apostolic ministry did not result in more law-keeping (circumcision, etc.) but in freedom. The ministry of these teachers did nothing to improve the lives of the Corinthians, on the contrary, they unnecessarily added the burden of the Law. Paul's ministry, on the other hand, brought freedom from sin and death, and power to be transformed into the image of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, a work that Moses and the Law could not and were not given to accomplish.
His ministry is out in the open
1Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 2but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. 6For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
- II Corinthians 4:1-6
The teachers at Corinth are crafty and speak behind his back trying to destroy Paul, however, he carries on with his ministry in good conscience before God and all men (verses 1-2). Whenever the gospel is hidden it is so because sinful men refuse to see it, not because he hides it (verses 3-4). Paul concludes by affirming the fact that as ministers of the gospel they are preaching what God has revealed to them through the Spirit, a message that always leads the hearer to Christ.
His ministry causes persecution
7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So death works in us, but life in you.
13But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we also believe, therefore we also speak, 14knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.
16Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
- II Corinthians 4:7-18
Paul does not say it here, but the implication is that these false teachers have never really suffered any persecution on account of their message. They cause persecution, but do not receive any.
He describes at length his own unworthiness to preach the message (verse 7) and the suffering he has endured to carry out this ministry (verses 8-11) which these others have not experienced. Paul always has this comparison of the quality of his ministry with the false teachers in view, but makes other points along the way as well (e.g. the suffering caused by his ministry is destroying his body, but making his spirit stronger - verse 16).
All ministries will be judged
1For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, 3inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. 4For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. 5Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
6Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7for we walk by faith, not by sight— 8we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. 9Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
- II Corinthians 5:1-10
Paul declares that his body is decaying, but he is nevertheless anxious for death to materialize because it will be at this point that his eternal life with God will be fully realized (verse 2). He also uses this idea to remind his readers that along with death comes judgment, and everyone will be judged according to what they have done.
Again, the implicit suggestion is that he himself looks forward to this time because his ministry is from God and has been fruitful, but his detractors may not be able to say the same thing about their ministry.
His ministry is one of reconciliation with God
11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. 12We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart. 13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 14For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
16Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
- II Corinthians 5:11-21
Paul is proud of his ministry because it serves God's purpose in bringing people to Christ, and they should be proud of him as well (verses 11-12).
He reviews God's ultimate purpose and reminds them that his ministry is in line with the purpose of God (verses 18-20). Again, the implication is that Paul's ministry is in perfect accord with God's ministry, and that is to reconcile people to God through Christ. He is happy and proud to do this, and they should feel that way too. Again, the implied comparison is that his ministry brings God and man together, and their ministry divides the brethren and separates them from God.
His ministry is sincere
1And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— 2for He says,"At the acceptable time I listened to you,And on the day of salvation I helped you."Behold, now is "the acceptable time," behold, now is "the day of salvation"— 3giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, 4but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, 6in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, 7in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, 8by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; 9as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, 10as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.
- II Corinthians 6:1-10
Not only did Paul preach, but he acted in such a way that his conduct supported and confirmed his message (verse 3). Even though they (Paul and his co-workers) suffered all forms of hardships and humiliations, they never did anything that would cause the brethren to doubt their sincerity, and there was no reason to begin now. This may have been a way for Paul to encourage his readers to compare his conduct to that of the false teachers in order to determine who, by their conduct, proved to be sincere.
After having reviewed these six areas of ministry, Paul finishes with exhortations.
Exhortation — II Corinthians 6:11-7:16
He offers three exhortations. He begins one, then stops in order to give a second one, and finally combines the two into a single word of encouragement to finish the chapter.
11Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide. 12You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections. 13Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also.
He begins by pleading with them to open their hearts to him as an Apostle. This is an emotional appeal that they be reconciled together with him in fellowship and love once again. Paul says that his love is not restrained but they are the ones holding (being held) back from love and fellowship with him.
14Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17"Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.
18"And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty.
He changes course here from a personal appeal based on their relationship with him, to a broader issue of relationships in general. He cautions that they not be bound/united to unbelievers. Paul was an ambassador for Christ trying to bind these brethren to himself, and through this to Christ according to God's plan. Therefore, he encourages them not to unite or yoke themselves with unbelievers who would take them away from Christ. In context, he is referring to the false teachers as well as nonbelievers and pagans. Stay with the believers, he says, stay with him.
The wider application of this verse can include business associates, friends, even marriage partners, for the principle remains true in each situation (verse 15b). They were uniting themselves to the false teachers and he tells them that this was similar to the temple in Jerusalem being united to a pagan temple of idols, or righteousness occupying the same position as lawlessness. Certain things did not go together!
As a general principle this can be applied to mixed marriages, but this is not the point being made here. Paul is not talking about marriage, he is talking about ministries. I Corinthians 7:12-13 tells us that if unbelieving partners consent to live in peace, believing partners should remain married. It is not the ideal, but God blesses the children of these marriages and reminds the believers that they have opportunity to reach their partners so long as they are willing to remain.
1Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
2Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. 3I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. 4Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.
5For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. 6But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; 7and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more. 8For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— 9I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. 12So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God. 13For this reason we have been comforted.And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. 14For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth. 15His affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.
- II Corinthians 7:1-16
Paul now combines both previous exhortations into a final thought that encourages all of them to be united and holy. This last exhortation urges them to receive his sincere love and affection, and continue in holy and pure living which are major objectives of his ministry to them. He wants the Corinthians to be united in love, and holy in their conduct (verses 1-4).
In the rest of the chapter Paul finishes the story about Titus that he began in chapter 2. In this manner he closes this section of his letter in a natural and personal way. About Titus he says:
- He himself was ill and depressed but finally met up with Titus who brought news of the Corinthians' reaction to his first letter.
- He reviews how he felt about writing the letter in the first place, and the joy he experienced when Titus reported their repentant attitude.
- He even recounts how Titus was excited about their positive attitude and effort to change (verse 13).
This leads to a final word about how he now rejoices and has confidence in them because of their change and attitude (verse 16). Paul ends the passage by including the comparison of his ministry to that of the teachers at Corinth who were causing the problems. He ends on a positive note, assuming his readers' good intentions, and this sets the tone for the next subject which will be fellowship.
Paul reviews his own ministry and sets it alongside the one being conducted by those who oppose him. His defense is to say to them, "Judge me by my works, not just by my words."
I believe that this is a valid way to judge all individuals in order to determine their sincerity, not only ministers but the sincerity of any brother or sister in the Lord. We, as Christians, are saved by faith, but we demonstrate the sincerity of our faith by our works because a sincere faith wants to rejoice in the Lord, serve the Lord and obey His Word.