1. Key verse: II Corinthians 5:18
2. Theme: The ministry of Jesus Christ through His people
This outline groups portions of the book together and relates them to the main theme. However, not every verse within the different groups are accounted for.
I. The Foundation of His Ministry * Chapter 1:1-14
A. Those who minister on His behalf have received the consolation of salvation (II Cor. 1:4,10)
B. Those who minister trust in God's power and grace (II Cor. 1:9,12)
II. The Confidence of His Ministry * Chapters 1:15 - 3:3
A. God always keeps His promises (II Cor. 1:20)
B. God gives inner confirmation (II Cor. 1:21,22)
C. God's ministry is effective (II Cor. 2:9,16)
D. The spiritual success of God's ministry is a witness to all (II Cor. 3:2,3)
III. The Nature of God's Ministry * Chapter 3:4-17
A. It is a ministry of a fulfilled testament (II Cor. 3:6)
B. It is a ministry of the Spirit (II Cor. 3:8)
C. It is a ministry of glory (II Cor. 3:9)
D. It is a ministry of liberty (II Cor. 3:17)
IV. The Perspective of His Ministers * Chapter 4
A. God's ministers have a realistic attitude toward unbelievers (II Cor. 4:3,4)
B. God's ministers have a realistic attitude toward themselves (II Cor. 4:7)
C. God's ministers have a realistic attitude toward their obligation (II Cor. 4:13)
D. God's ministers have a realistic attitude toward eternal things (II Cor. 4:18)
V. The Objectives of His Ministry * Chapter 5
A. God keeps His promise to give His people a new body (II Cor. 5:1,4)
B. God keeps His promise to protect His people from the judgment to come (II Cor. 5:9,10,21)
C. God keeps His promise to make His people live for Him (II Cor. 5:15)
D. God keeps His promise to make His people new creatures (II Cor. 5:17)
E. God keeps His promise to make His people His ministers (II Cor. 5:19,20)
VI. The Challenge to Men by His Ministry * Chapter 6
A. God's ministry is urgent (II Cor. 6:2)
B. God's ministry is costly (II Cor. 6:3-10)
C. God's ministry is holy (II Cor. 6:14,16)
VII. The Desired Reaction of Men to His Ministry * Chapter 7
A. God works repentance in the lives of the hearers of the Gospel (II Cor. 7:9-11)
B. God brings comfort and joy into the lives of the ministers of the Gospel (II Cor. 7:4,13)
VIII. An Illustration of God's Ministry * Chapters 8, 9
A. God's ministry is a result of His grace (II Cor. 8:1)
B. God's ministry is not dependent upon His ministers' own resources (II Cor. 8:2)
C. God's ministry is preoccupied by what it does for others (II Cor.8:4)
D. God seeks not His ministers' own effort and resources but the ministers themselves (II Cor. 8:5)
E. God's ministers' participation in His ministry grows out of their love for God Himself (II Cor. 8:8)
F. God's ministry is a picture of salvation (II Cor. 8:9)
G. God's ministers must minister willingly (II Cor. 8:12)
H. God's ministers serve knowing God will minister to their needs (II Cor. 8:15)
I. God's ministers must be exhorted to minister (II Cor. 8:17)
J. God's ministers must serve honestly (II Cor. 8:21)
K. God's ministers must make provision for the ministry (II Cor. 9:3)
L. God's ministers must not regret when they serve (II Cor. 9:5-7)
M. God gives to His ministers in order to accomplish the goals of His ministry (II Cor. 9:8)
N. God's ministry leads to thanksgiving (II Cor. 9:11)
O. God's ministry leads to His glory (II Cor. 9:13)
IX. Paul's Personal Defense of God's Ministry * Chapters 10-13
A. God's ministry is spiritual (II Cor. 10:3-5)
B. God's ministry is not evaluated by the appearance of the minister (II Cor. 10:9,12)
C. Paul demonstrates the folly of boasting in God's ministry (II Cor. 11:1 - 12:6)
1. He is going to say something silly to make a point (II Cor. 11:1,12,18)
2. He has a track record as a faithful minister of God (II Cor. 11:6,9)
3. There are men who boast but are false apostles (II Cor. 11:13-15)
4. He has all the credentials that these false prophets seem to have, including the same human lineage (II Cor. 11:22)
5. He has been persecuted as a minister of Christ (II Cor. 11:23-27)
a. He has done many things for the church (II Cor. 11:28)
b. He had a unique experience (II Cor. 12:1-5)
D. Paul had personal struggles in the ministry (II Cor. 12:7-10)
E. Paul was willing to spend all his resources for the benefit of others (II Cor. 12:15)
F. Paul rested his case with God (II Cor. 13:3,4)
G. All people must answer to God for their own life (II Cor. 13:5,7,11)
4. General Comments
All the things that Jesus has planned and all the things Jesus does to carry out His plans are together called His ministry. II Corinthians teaches us two important truths about His ministry, although they are really two parts of one truth. First of all, II Corinthians emphasizes that Jesus is alive, actively pursuing His amazing plan for men (II Cor. 4:14, 5:15). Secondly, because Jesus is not physically on the earth today, we learn that He has chosen to minister through people. Jesus ministers to people so that they in turn may be His ministers to others (II Cor. 1:4). In fact, when Jesus' ministers serve, it is really Jesus Himself who is ministering (II Cor. 5:20).
The two truths above lead us to conclude that we can understand Jesus' ministry through an examination of the ministry of those whom He has chosen to serve on His behalf. This conclusion helps us understand the contents and structure of II Corinthians. God has designed II Corinthians so that we can learn about the ultimate objectives, personal motivations, and outward actions of Jesus' ministry through our examination of the work of His minister, the apostle Paul.
II Corinthians is the second letter to the Corinthian congregation in the Bible. That fact is a clue that helps us to understand what God wants to teach through it and why it is written in the way that it is. In other words, we can better understand II Corinthians when we see its relationship to I Corinthians. Let us see how the two Corinthian letters fit together.
Paul spent a long time establishing the church in Corinth (Acts 18:11) and then departed for other work which God had assigned to him. However, he still cared for the church and kept in touch with its spiritual development (I Cor. 1:11, 4:17). Paul's concern is seen in I Corinthians, in which he declared Jesus' spiritual will to correct some spiritual problems he heard had grown to be a serious threat to the church. Paul also decided to counsel the congregation in some spiritual issues, not in reaction to specific problems, but in order to help them in their Christian life. The message of I Corinthians was important, which is why Paul made it clear that he wrote with the authority of God Himself (I Cor. 15:9,10).
I Corinthians, being the Word of God, was a test for the church, to see if the members would obey Jesus with whom they identified (II Cor. 2:9). The reaction of each member of the church to what God caused Paul to write in I Corinthians revealed the spiritual condition of their hearts. Not only that, I Corinthians revealed the heart of Paul, the minister, as well. No matter how stern the rebukes in I Corinthian might have seemed, it was important that the members knew that Paul wrote the letter because of his great love for them (II Cor. 2:4). Paul wanted them to know that he was motivated by his great spiritual concern for them (II Cor. 1:6,7, 7:12). Paul greatly desired the salvation of every member of the Corinthian congregation (II Cor. 13:5) before it would be too late (II Cor. 6:2).
As it turned out, there was a mixed reaction to the I Corinthian letter. Many of the members carefully read what Paul wrote, repented of their sin, and sought to live an obedient life (II Cor. 7:6-7). Some, however, were not willing to submit to what he wrote. In order to justify their own desires, they challenged his authority (II Cor. 13:3) as they had before (I Cor. 9:3) and criticized him personally, deriding not only his outward appearance (II Cor. 10:10) but also his character (II Cor. 1:17).
Therefore, Paul wrote II Corinthians in response to the challenges and criticisms of some members of the Corinthian congregation to his ministry. II Corinthians is a very personal examination of Paul's objectives, motives, and methods. However, the message of II Corinthians is much larger than just the examination of one minister's service. As we have said, it is really an examination of the ministry of Jesus Christ Himself. The service of the Gospel to men is really His ministry. Nevertheless, even though Jesus is directly involved in the lives of all His people as the Chief Shepherd of the flock (Heb. 13:20, I Pet. 5:4), He has decided to minister through His appointed men, who guide His spiritual flock in this physical world. These men bring the message of Christ on His behalf (II Cor. 5:20), having been equipped and entrusted with His Gospel and the care of His church.
When people react to Jesus' ministry in the world, the focus of their reaction is usually upon the human agents whom Jesus recruits to minister on His behalf. It is important how people react to Jesus' ministers. Inasmuch as it is really Jesus who is working through His ministers (II Cor. 1:21, 5:19,20, 9:8), how people react to the ministers Jesus sends to them is a reflection of how they react to Him. Sometimes the work of Jesus' ministers brings reconciliation and joy, sometimes it brings condemnation and grief. Positively or negatively, the human ministers are the targets of whatever the people think, say, or do in response to what Jesus does through them. This is what Paul had to deal with and it is a very big issue in the book of II Corinthians. In fact, II Corinthians, as a defense of Paul's own ministry is really a defense of Jesus' own ministry.
It is also important how Jesus' ministers react to the people to whom they minister. They must understand that the more faithfully they serve, the greater is the risk that their message, methods, and motives will be misunderstood by those whom they serve. They cannot avoid it, for they are ambassadors of a spiritual Kingdom in a materially-centered world. They must be courageous and faithful, remembering that they serve by the personal appointment of Jesus (II Cor. 3:3,6, 4:1,7, 6:4, 10:8, 11:5,23, 12:11) and have been promised the help of Him for whom they minister (II Cor. 3:5, 12:9).
5. Observations on Specific Verses
a) II Corinthians: Paul's defense
Some members of the Corinthian church attacked Paul personally in an attempt to justify themselves in the face of the condemnations he wrote in I Corinthians. They thought that by reducing the man in their own eyes and in the eyes of others, they could reduce his authority and dismiss his message. We shall briefly examine a few of the accusations and see how God leads Paul to answer them.
One serious accusation was that Paul was dishonest and that his word could not be trusted, that Paul said one thing but really meant another (II Cor. 1:17). The idea of the accusation was that Paul was fickle and casual with his words, and no one could be sure that he meant what he said, or that Paul was weak and could not measure up to the bold words he used in his letters, or that Paul was devious, never intending to necessarily keep his word but willing to say and do whatever was personally convenient and what would result in his personal gain. The implication of the accusation was that Paul's credibility was questionable, for the objective of some of the Corinthians was to reduce the authority of his words and dismiss any obligation to obey them.
In answer to that, Paul states in II Corinthians 1:12 that his conscience is clear. Paul says that his testimony was "in simplicity," that is, the Corinthians could take it all at face value. As he says in verse 13, there were no hidden meanings or purposes in what he wrote. Paul insists that what he wrote was not part of some devious or complex plot based upon fleshly motives (II Cor. 10:2). In fact, Paul's motives were as pure as God's (II Cor. 2:17, see also 4:2). Nothing could make him compromise the truth of God's Word and therefore his own word as well (II Cor. 13:8).
Paul states quite clearly that they are mistaken if they think that when he speaks he means yes and no at the same time (II Cor. 1:17,18). After all, Jesus Christ whom Paul represents does not have a double meaning in what He says (II Cor. 1:19). The word of the Gospel is trustworthy and is fulfilled in Him just as He promised (II Cor. 1:20), and Paul was given that sure Word by God Himself (II Cor. 3:6, 5:18,19). If they doubt his word, then they are really doubting the God whose Word he brings.
The historical basis for the attack upon Paul's word was that he did not keep his promise to visit the Corinthian congregation as he had said that he would. Paul's first trip to Corinth is described in Acts 18:1-17. He stayed there a year and a half. After an absence of some time, Paul wrote that he would again visit them (I Cor. 4:19, 11:34, 16:2-9). As he explains, Paul planned to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost in the spring (I Cor. 16:8) and then visit them as part of his trip to Macedonia (I Cor. 16:5-7). In II Corinthians 1:15, 16, Paul reminds them of his stated intention, adding that he hoped to visit them twice, once on the way to Macedonia and again after he had completed his work in Macedonia. However, he never made it to Corinth as he originally planned, and proceeds to explain the delay of his visit.
Ironically, Paul's change of mind was not a sign of weakness or of a deceitful attempt to take advantage of them, but of a mature love for them. His absence was purposeful and was motivated by his great care for them. He wanted to spare them a sharp, face-to-face rebuke (II Cor. 1:23). He wanted to increase their joy in the Gospel (II Cor. 1:24). Just as the purpose of I Corinthians was to avoid a painful confrontation with those for whom he cared so much (II Cor. 2:3,4), so had he decided to write II Corinthians as a temporary substitute for the visit he had promised them (II Cor. 13:10).
It must have been that Paul sent Timothy (I Cor. 16:10) and Titus (II Cor. 8:6, 9:4, 12:18) to Corinth with instructions to meet him in Troas in order that he might know how the church received his counsel, for Paul states how anxious he was to hear Titus' report (II Cor. 2:12,13). Paul mentions that to the Corinthians in order to emphasize his great care for them.
Incidentally, we ought to say at this point that II Corinthians 2:12,13 refers to a episode not recorded for us elsewhere in Scriptures. The verses do not refer to Acts 16:8-12, which describe Paul's journey from Troas to Macedonia before he had ever visited Corinth, nor do they refer to Acts 20:1-6, which describe Paul's journey from Macedonia to Troas as he headed for Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem. God's purpose in including II Corinthians 2:12,13 in the Bible is to simply show Paul's care for them in his absence from them.
Paul deals with the same accusation in II Corinthians 6:11, where he again asserts both his honesty and his concern for them. Paul says that his mouth was open, in the sense that all which he had to say was in plain view. He had no hidden words or motives. Paul would not have encouraged any expectations that he was not willing or able to fulfill (II Cor. 7:2). All that he said and did was based on pure motives and good spiritual reasons. Paul's heart was enlarged in the sense that there was room in his heart for them all (II Cor. 7:3). He truly cared for them (II Cor. 7:12). Even if they did not have all the information and did not understand why Paul had changed his plans, they should have realized that he cared for them and should have given him the benefit of the doubt.
Another serious accusation was that Paul's boldness toward the Corinthians was a sign of his pride (II Cor. 10:8). Because their accusation was not true, Paul's detractors had to support their attack with irrelevant and distorted facts. They based their conclusions totally upon outward human measurement (II Cor. 10:7,12, see also 5:12). Some of the Corinthians derided Paul's physical appearance and speaking skill, saying that is why he was bold in his letters but not in person (II Cor. 10:10). Additionally, they attached evil motives to Paul's refusal to accept material support from the Corinthians for working among them (II Cor. 11:7). The implication of this accusation was that Paul had serious personal problems, his claim of apostleship was hollow, and his words could be ignored.
Paul's boldness was not motivated out of pride but out of an urgency that the Corinthians believe the words he wrote and change their ways before it would be too late. Paul was concerned that they believe he was an apostle, bringing God's word to them, so that they would be reconciled to Him.
II Corinthians 10-12 is, among other things, an extended defense of Paul's apostleship. Let us examine these chapters as completely and carefully as we have time for in this survey.
Paul agreed that he was bold in his letters. Paul boldly and confidently insisted in many places that he had the qualifications of not only a believer (II Cor. 1:22, 5:5,21) and minister of God (II Cor. 3:6, 5:18,19) but also the qualifications to be an apostle, bringing God's very words to their situation (II Cor. 11:5, 12:11). He appealed to them to recognize that it was better that he be bold in a letter than be bold in his presence toward those who accused him of walking after the flesh (II Cor. 10:1,2).
Paul also agreed that he lived in a body as everyone else, but he pointed out that his physical characteristics were irrelevant because the real issues and battles of life are spiritual, and he dealt with them in a spiritual way, that is, in God's way (II Cor. 10:3-6). Therefore, Paul was not ashamed to boast that he had the authority of an apostle, because his spiritual calling was given to him by the Lord, and it was designed for their benefit, to build them up not tear them down (II Cor. 10:7,8). Others might have found a reason to boast by comparing themselves with other men. However, Paul boasted in the fact that he was simply doing the job that God had given him to do (II Cor. 10:13-18).
Paul warned them that he was going to write some pretty silly things in order to make a point. For one thing, he was jealous that the Corinthians had so easily listened to and accepted a gospel from someone else that was different than what he had brought when had been there before. After all, no matter how bad his own speaking ability was, he had clearly demonstrated his apostleship and knowledge when he had been in Corinth (II Cor. 11:1-6). Then he asked a silly question, "Did I commit a sin because I did not accept any material support when I preached the Gospel among you?" The answer is that Paul refused material help from them deliberately for a good reason, not because he did not love them, but because he wanted to give no reason for false apostles to assert that they were in any way equal with him, no matter how holy they might appear outwardly (II Cor. 11:7-15). The implication is that these false apostles had taken advantage of the Corinthians in a material way and Paul did not want to appear to be like them (II Cor. 11:19,20). Paul may have been bold, but his unwillingness to be a material burden to them should have been proof to them that his boldness was not motivated out of pride or selfish avarice but out of his care for them.
Then Paul decided to do something really silly. He was going to boast in his own credentials as a minister and apostle of God. Beginning in II Corinthians 11:16, Paul showed that he could match up favorably with anyone who wanted to boast in their ministry. He admitted that this sort of self-boasting was really dumb (II Cor. 11:16,23), but he would do it to make the point that if other men wanted to boast about their outward accomplishments, he could too. He used this foolish comparison because the Corinthians seemed to be impressed by such men even though those men hurt them (II Cor. 11:19-21). For one thing, Paul had the same impeccable human pedigree these other boasters had. (Incidentally, II Corinthians 11:22 shows that some of Paul's detractors were Jews, many who had a desire to keep the Law to please God). Also, Paul was as much a minister of Christ and suffered for it as much or more than anyone else (II Cor. 11:23-27). In addition, Paul was responsible for the care of the many churches he had founded (II Cor. 11:28,29).
After having written all of that, Paul explained that if he must boast, he should boast only in the fact that he was weak in himself and was dependent upon God for his all that he needed (II Cor. 11:30-33). Therefore, Paul did not think that it is such a good idea to continue with this silly discussion. However, he felt compelled to mention one more thing in order to support his claim of being a true apostle of God, namely, his unique experience with revelations and visions from the Lord (II Cor. 12:1-4). He preferred to emphasize his weakness so that God might get the glory (II Cor. 4:7, 12:5), although he reminded them that if he were to boast he would be simply telling the truth (II Cor. 12:5).
But enough is enough, and Paul stops this silly discussion; otherwise, people might begin to be impressed with him (II Cor. 12:6). Not only that, Paul stated that God sent circumstances into his life to make sure that he did not get too impressed with himself either, as well as to make sure that he did not forget that he depended upon God (II Cor. 12:7-10).
Paul says that it is too bad he had to resort to such a silly discussion to prove himself before them, for they should have been proud of him without any prompting (II Cor. 12:11-12). "After all," he wrote, "I took no material possessions from you because I cared so much for you (II Cor. 12:13-19). Not only that, repeating my defense to the attack upon my honesty, I did not visit you earlier as I previously said I would because I wanted to avoid a harsh confrontation with you (II Cor. 12:20-13:2) and give you time to make the right evaluation of yourselves and of me (II Cor. 13:4-8)."
At this point, we shall briefly rehearse the nature of the accusations Paul faced in order to make two important observations about the people who made them. We should note that the attacks from some Corinthians upon Paul's authority were not new. The accusations were similar to what some Corinthians had used before. From Paul's first letter to the Corinthians we see that some people had said that Paul was not willing to show up in Corinth and used his absence as proof that he had neither the courage or authority to back up what he wrote (I Cor. 4:18). The implication was that he was just another man with a message, had no divine power and would wilt in the face of any confrontation. Others had said that Paul's unwillingness to take any physical support from the Corinthians was proof that he was not entitled to it, as an apostle appointed of God to bring His Word would have been (I Cor. 9:1-3). These are the same accusations that Paul had to answer in II Corinthians.
One observation concerning this continual attack is that it revealed the ungrateful hearts of his attackers and their refusal to repent, even after Paul carefully explained the facts. The irony was that as some Corinthians attacked Paul, Paul was seeking to be longsuffering and gracious to the Corinthians. Paul delayed his visit in order to write to them words that would help them (II Cor. 13:10), and he refused material help from them in order to not be a burden to them and to stop the mouths of false apostles (II Cor. 11:9,12,13). In all cases, Paul's motivation was his fatherly spiritual love for them, (I Cor. 1:4, 4:14,15, II Cor. 6:11, 11:11, 12:15,19).
Another observation is that the way some of the Corinthians mistreated Paul was a very serious matter, for it was similar to the way that the Jews mistreated Jesus. Jesus, like Paul, was despised by those to whom He came in kindness and truth (John 1:11). When Jesus was on the earth, He was reviled and ridiculed, reduced in the eyes of His brothers. Even today Jesus' person is ignored or irreverently abused, and His message through His faithful ministers is ridiculed or altered to suit men's sinful fancies.
b) II Corinthians 1:20: the honesty of Jesus' ministry
The words "all the promises of God in him" refer to the Word of God which Paul brought to the Corinthians. The promises of God in Jesus Christ can only be found in the Bible.
The promises are "in him," in the sense of location. That is where men go to find or hear about the promises. In other words, as we learn in I Peter 1:11, when we read the Bible, we are hearing Jesus speak the promises of God. Even in those passages in which the prophets talked about Jesus, it was really Jesus Himself who was speaking about Himself. In the Old Testament times or the New Testament times, men must go to Jesus for the words that promise life (John 6:68).
The promises are "in him" also in the sense of fulfillment. In other words, only Jesus had the custody of those promises. He alone is responsible to see that the promises are not lost, but that what is said in those promises is actually carried out.
The word "yea" must be understood, in the sense that it is used in the rest of Chapter 1. In contrast to some who accused Paul of saying one thing and meaning another, when Paul says "yea" that is exactly what he means. In fact, he says that his word is as firm as God's own Word, not because he is God but because he brought God's own words (II Cor. 1:19) and because he had been changed into an honest man (II Cor. 1:12). As Paul concludes at the end of verse 19, Jesus Christ whom he and his companions preached was exactly who he told them He was. Paul did not say yea about Christ when he meant nay. Paul was not preaching one thing about Jesus when the truth was something else. Paul is saying that he was completely honest. More than that, he is also tying his honesty to God's own honesty in verse 18. Paul is saying that he as is true to his word as Jesus is. Therefore, the sense of the word "yea" is "a yea that means yea."
The verse also says that the promises are "in him Amen," meaning not only that all believers agree with and affirm what the Bible says about Jesus, but also that what the Bible promises about Jesus is the end of the matter. God is faithful to His word and does not modify what he has previously said. God does not improvise as time goes by. God has integrity and is not influenced to say what He does by the actions and opinions of other people or by changing circumstances. He works according to a specific preordained plan, and Jesus Christ is the fulfillment, the last word so to speak, of that plan.
Therefore, in as much as God is the standard for honesty, Paul declares in II Corinthians 1:20 how honest God is. II Corinthians 1:20 is saying that the promises in the Bible about Jesus are exactly what they seen to be. There are no surprises or disappointments in Jesus. God means exactly what He says in the Bible. God is honest and has no hidden promises or plans. If any thing is hidden, it is hidden to some people because of their unbelief (Amos 3:7, II Cor. 4:3).
By comparing the character of his own word with that of God's, Paul is not looking for glory for himself (II Cor. 10:17,18). It is just that God has given him the ministry of proclaiming His Word and that he has been faithful to that ministry (II Cor. 1:21,22). Any questions about the honesty of Paul's ministry are really questions about the honesty of God's own ministry.
c) II Corinthians 2:14-16: the design of Jesus' ministry
These verses show that the same Gospel can produce very different results in the lives of two people who hear the same message. However, the results are not a function of physical circumstances or a function of how ministers of the Gospel, such as Paul, manipulate the word to achieve certain ends. Nor can we explain the different results by saying that the Gospel is more effective sometimes than at other times, that physical circumstances influence the impact of the gospel upon people or that some people are more resistant to the Gospel appeal than others. The results are different because the ministry of the Gospel is designed to affect people in different ways. No matter what the result, Paul can give thanks that his ministry is always successful, for Jesus is in control, and the results are as He has planned them to be.
The word "savour," whether the word euodia, as in verse 15, or the word, as in the other verses, refers to service, not just any service but to a service that is pleasing to God (Eph. 5:2, Phil. 4:18). The words "savour of his knowledge" refer to the service of proclaiming the knowledge of God, the Bible, which proclaims Jesus as Savior and as Judge.
In verse 15, Paul is saying that as he proclaims the Gospel, God recognizes His promises in Christ to those whom he plans to save. He also knows the effect of the Gospel of Christ will have upon those who will not be saved. Paul says that the ministers of God bring only one message. To some people, the ministers, that is, the message they proclaim, have the smell of death. That means the message the ministers proclaim condemns some people and, if they do become saved, leads to their eternal death in hell (II Cor. 2:16). This does not mean that the people, to whom the Gospel comes, smell that death. That is, they may not understand that they are headed for eternal death and God's wrath, as the gospel warns. However, God smells their death, for He sees the hearts of those people who try to use the Bible to obey for their own righteousness sake, a use of the Bible that leads to death (II Cor. 3:6). To other people, the ministers, that is, the message they bring, have the smell of life. That means they believe the message the ministers bring and that leads to their eternal life (II Cor. 3:16). These are people whom God has promised life and have been given life by His Spirit (II Cor. 3:6). These are people whom He causes to trust in the finished work of Jesus for their salvation
d) II Corinthians 3:6: the glory of Jesus' ministry
This verse contains the phrase "for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life," which is often misunderstood. Some people use the phrase together with verse 17 to support the idea that living a life too closely to the Bible smothers the vitality and kills the freedom of a Christian life. The impression is that a Christian should allow the Spirit to guide his life unfettered by any constraints of the Bible. From their point of view, a Christian has been separated and released from any obligations to obey the Bible. However, this idea is not what II Corinthians 3:6 is teaching at all, nor do we find such an idea in any other part of the Bible.
The word "letter" refers to the actual written letters in a book or scroll (Luke 23:38). In Romans 2:27, it refers to circumcision, in the sense of the written letters of the Law that describe circumcision which are kept by some people in an attempt to achieve righteousness before God. In Romans 2:29, it is used in opposition to both the word "spirit" and to the word "heart." The idea here is that someone who lives by the "letter" of the Law has neither the proper motivation nor the understanding of that Law. Such a person tries to conform to the outward directive of that Law, not motivated by a heart that loves God, but by a desire to earn self-righteousness as well as the praise of men. Also, such a person is not interested in the spiritual intent of the laws of God. Therefore, the word "letter" refers to an attitude toward the letters of the Law of God which says, "I can obey the Law sufficiently on my own to please God." In that sense, the "letter killeth" because men are sinners and do not meet the standard of obedience to the Law which God requires, and so are condemned.
As II Corinthians 3:7 states, the Law written in stone which Moses brought down from Mount Sinai was a ministration of death. In other words, it was a ministration of condemnation (II Cor. 3:9) which leads to death. Because no man can obey the Law perfectly, and in fact because all men are sinners as soon as they are born and so are condemned, all men are justly pronounced guilty by the Law (Rom. 3:19) and the proper sentence for all is eternal death in Hell. It does not help men achieve righteousness through their personal obedience to the letter of the law. The Law rubs men's noses in the fact that they are sinners.
On the other hand, II Corinthians 3:6 states that the "spirit giveth life," in which the word "spirit" refers to the Holy Spirit who provides what the letter of the Law cannot, namely, eternal life (Rom. 8:2,3). Because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sins of His people, they not only escape the death assigned to sinners, they also receive eternal life, not just life that never ends, but a new kind of life (II Cor. 5:17).
Before we go on in our survey, we ought to clarify one point about II Corinthians 3:17. The word "liberty" must be understood in the same sense as in Galatians 5:1. When a person is saved by grace and receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, he is no longer under obligation to obey the whole Law to be righteous before God (Gal. 5:3). He is free from the requirement to obey the Law perfectly to be right with God. Additionally, he is free from the condemnation of the Law that his past, present and future sins merit (Rom. 8:1). Not only that, he is free from the slavery to sin (Rom. 6:22). A Christian does have a constraint upon him. However, it is not the constraint of the Law. Rather, it is the bond of love for his Lord Jesus which compels him to serve and obey Him (Rom. 6:17).
e) II Corinthians 5:9,10,21: the power of Jesus' ministry
In II Corinthians 5:9, Paul states the main objective of all those who labor for the Lord. Whether "present," that is, physically dead and present with the Lord in Heaven (II Cor. 5:8), or whether "absent," that is physically alive and present with other believers on earth but absent from the Lord (II Cor. 5:6), a minister's greatest desire is that he may be acceptable to God. The word translated "acceptable" in II Corinthians 5:9 is also found in Hebrews 11:5,6, translated there as the word "please." The verses in Hebrews explain that only those who have faith please God. By means of this comparison we can conclude that the main objective of those who serve God is their own salvation through faith.
Next, we come to a very misunderstood verse, verse 10. The word "for" in verse 10 means that verse 10 is a follow up to verse 9 and is presented in support of verse 9. Therefore, whatever we think about verse 10, one thing is certain, based upon its link to verse 9 it must be part of an explanation of God's salvation plan. In the logical flow of this chapter, that is the purpose of verse 10.
Verse 10 states an unchangeable principle that is true for all men. All men must be judged for their life in light of the Law of God. The phrase "judgment seat of Christ" does not refer to a review of a Christian's life to evaluate his Christian service and determine what kind of reward he should get. The word "judgment seat," bema in Greek, refers to Pilate's seat before which Jesus was brought to be tried (Matt. 27:19, John 19:13). It was the place of judgment to determine if Jesus was guilty or innocent. That is why Paul refers to it as a terror and not as an evaluation (II Cor. 5:11). In the sense that all men must stand before the judgment seat as Christ did, the judgment seat is a terror, for every man's life fails to measure up to God's standard and merits wrath. In the sense that all men must stand before the Judge, as Christ is Himself the Judge (John 5:22, Acts 17:31, Rom. 2:16), the judgment seat is a terror, for who can stand before the living God? Therefore, the principle of verse 10 is clear, all men must stand before the Judge, just as Jesus did. All of a man's actions must be accounted for, if God is as just as He says He is. The problem is that no man has done any good, all are bad (Rom. 3:12), and so all must stand before the judgment of God's Law to be declared guilty (Rom. 3:19).
How can the objective expressed in verse 9 be achieved in such a hopeless and terrifying situation as expressed in verse 10? The answer is found in the amazing message of the ministry of reconciliation. In II Corinthians 5:21, we read that when Jesus stood for judgment, He took all the sins of His people with Him; so in a real way, they stood condemned when He did. When Jesus paid the penalty for sin, He paid for the sins of all those who would believe on Him so that they would never have to face the Law of God for any of their deeds. Jesus has overcome the iron grip of the Law upon His sinful and guilty people. That is the greatest display of power the universe has ever seen. It is the power of God unto salvation.
Therefore, the principle of verse 10 is indeed fulfilled in the life of every man. People who become true believers stood before the judgment seat when Jesus did and are no longer subject to that judgment (John 5:24, Rom. 8:1-3, I Peter 2:24). People who remain unbelievers will stand before the judgment seat on their own and have to face the consequences of Hell and eternal death (Rev. 20:13).
The principle of II Corinthians 5:10 is also discussed in Romans 14:10-12. There we read that Paul quoted Isaiah 45:23 to support his point. A comparison of Isaiah 45:23 with Philippians 2:10,11, as well as a careful examination of Isaiah 45:25, reveals that the verses in Isaiah and therefore the Romans and II Corinthian verses, are fulfilled for a believer when he receives the Gospel and is saved. A believer does not await a further adjudication of any kind in the future. In fact, the Bible states the believers will be present at Judgment Day as judges together with Christ (I Cor. 6:2,3).
Incidentally, this analysis of Romans 14:10 is important, for it reveals an important dimension to Bible study. The tense of the Greek verb translated, "we shall ... stand before" in Romans 14:10 is in the future. But a good Bible student will not rest his case upon that fact and use his understanding of the English usage of the future tense to come to a conclusion that Romans 14:10 is teaching something which conflicts with other verses. The crucial question in Bible study is, "What does the rest of the Bible say about what I read in this verse?" By comparison with other verses, we learn that judgment has a future application only for unbelievers.
f) II Corinthians 6:14: the companionship in Jesus' ministry
The idea of a yoke is that the person who is yoked is under the command of another. A Christian wears Jesus' yoke (Matt. 11:28-30), and Jesus holds the reigns that turns the yoke where He wants the Christian to go. The idea of II Corinthians 6:14 is that a Christian can do a good job ministering only when those who work with him have the same Master (Matt. 11:28-30). A Christian cannot be bound by a double yoke in which he is guided by Jesus while his partner is guided by another master. This principle applies to all human relationships such as friendship, business, and marriage.
If a man has the ministry of the Gospel as the priority of his life, then he can be a true companion only with those who have the same spiritual objectives and plan for their life. He may find that from a human point of view, he may have some natural personality traits and earthly interests in common with certain unbelievers, but close companionship with those people can only make his job in the ministry harder. If he wants to faithfully serve Christ and not hurt his witness, he must seek companionship with those whom he is spiritually compatible and who support his own service for Christ.
The last half of verse 14 applies the principle of the verse to the situation at Corinth. One problem at Corinth was that ministers with different messages were speaking to the congregation. The people at Corinth were listening to both Paul as well as the other ministers. The issue he presents in verse 1 is, "How can you as a congregation and me as a minister of the Lord work together?" (The words "with him" in verse 1 are in italics and are not part of the verse. They should be left out because the focus of the chapter is not on being yoked with Jesus but on being yoked with another person.) The conclusion of verse 14 is that faithful ministers of God must not compromise their witness by serving with a companion who does not serve Jesus as his Master. In Corinth, false ministers spoke to the congregation (II Cor. 11:12-15) but many in Corinth tolerated them (II Cor. 11:19, 20). Paul wanted them to face the question, "How can two be yoked together and yet serve different masters?" The answer is, "They cannot."
g) II Corinthians 6:16
This verse illustrates the value of a New Testament verse in providing the right context and understanding of an Old Testament passage. If we were to read Ezekiel 37, we might be inclined to say that verses 11, 19, and 24, among others, will someday be fulfilled in a physical way by the political nation of Israel. Since the world has not yet witnessed such a physical fulfillment, we might conclude that the promise is for some future time. However, such a view is a poor way to study the Bible. The only way to be sure that we know what a passage means is to go back to the Bible and see if other passages can be compared to the verses we are thinking about.
II Corinthians 6:16 shows that the last parts of Ezekiel 37:23 and 26 have been fulfilled in the salvation of all of God's people, Gentiles as well as Israelites. We could make other links between Ezekiel 37 and New Testament passages, as for example between Ezekiel 37:14 and Romans 8:11, but the point has been made. Therefore, Ezekiel 37:23 and 26 are not fulfilled in a physical way but in the Gospel of salvation for men of all nations.
Furthermore, it is legitimate to think that all the other verses in Ezekiel 37 have a spiritual perspective and fulfillment as well, inasmuch as the whole chapter is one undivided piece. In other words, the links between a few verses of Ezekiel 37 and II Corinthians 6 sets the context for helping us understand the rest of Ezekiel 37.
h) II Corinthians 7:10
Sorrow for sin is not equivalent to salvation. Sorrow could have all sorts of motivations, such as chagrin at getting caught, regret for not fulfilling one's desires, self-pity, or a genuine sorrow for hurting other people as well as God. Sorrow does not correct wrongs or change anyone's heart. However, sorrow can be the first step in a return to a faithful life. It is evidence that a person has been arrested in his sin. The value of his sorrow is dependent upon what he does next.
If an unbeliever is faced with the truth of God's Word or is accused by his conscience, it may lead to sorrow and a temporary pause in his sinful pursuits. But such a person has neither the power nor the inclination to please God from his heart. He may try all sorts of things to ease his sorrow but not make any attempt to resolve the problems of his heart that led him to sin in the first place. This kind of sorrow eventually leads to eternal death.
If a person's sorrow is accompanied by a genuine change in his mind to pursue the things of God, together with a change of behavior which reflects that new outlook, his sorrow has been used of God to produce repentance that is leading him to salvation. Repentance is not salvation itself. However, it is a gift that only God can give (Acts 5:31, 11:18) and is evidence that God is working in his heart. Repentance shows the spiritual handiwork of God, just as any other fruit does.
If we compare this chapter with II Corinthians 2:5-8, we see that one of the historical issues upon which the discussion of Chapter 7 is based is the excommunication of the man who was living with his father's wife (I Cor. 5). One point of all these passages is that the ministry of the Gospel to sinners has a gracious objective, namely, the restoration and reconciliation of sinners to God and to fellow believers. It is the glory of God to forgive whom He wants even though no one deserves it. It is the glory of a minister of the Gospel to want the same thing that God does and to remain faithful to the ministration of grace so that God can do His will as He so desires. It is the glory of a man to humble himself before a mighty God and seek reconciliation.
Therefore, Paul rejoiced that the sorrow of the Corinthians did not stop with bitter feelings but was accompanied by a work of God in their hearts (II Cor. 7:9). That was the reason why Paul wrote some of the things in I Corinthians that he did (II Cor. 7:8). Paul especially wanted the Corinthians to see, after they "came around" and once again experienced the joy of obedience, that he genuinely cared for them.
i) II Corinthians 9:8
This verse teaches, among other things, the truth that God never supplies a believer with something that He does not intend to use in his life. None of His gifts are ever wasted. God's provisions to his people are always purposeful and effective. A believer may wonder about the value of the knowledge and skills he has acquired, but God states that despite the fact His ministers are earthen vessels, He is able to use whatever talents they have to do His will.
For example, a believer may study an obscure, briefly-discussed portion of the Word of God, not knowing the ultimate use of that Scripture. But II Corinthians 9:8 assures us that some time and in some way God will see to it that what a believer has learned will be used to accomplish His purpose. In an another example, a believer may be raised in a family that speaks more than one language or he may learn a skill, not thinking much about the purpose for which God has entrusted those things to his care. But this verse states that God guides his life so that at the right time he will have all he needs to do the good work He has in mind for him. It is as if God deposits certain gifts in His people so that at the appropriate time He can work in them to do His will in the world (II Cor. 4:7, 5:20, Phil. 2:12,13).
j) II Corinthians 10:3, 4
God directs Paul to repeatedly remind the Corinthians, and all who read the Bible through the ages, of the importance of recognizing the spiritual dimension to life and, indeed, the overwhelming importance of the spiritual over the material. These verses highlight the reality and priority of the spiritual realm and urge believers to always try to see things from a spiritual point of view.
In this passage, believers are reminded to recognize the spiritual nature of their warfare in this world (II Cor. 2:11, 11:14,15, Eph. 6:12). In II Corinthians 1:22, believers are reminded of their spiritual confidence and hope. In II Corinthians 3:3, believers are reminded of the spiritual change in their lives (II Cor. 5:16,17). In II Corinthians 4:18, believers are reminded of their spiritual future (II Cor. 5:1). In II Corinthians 5:7, believers are reminded of the spiritual focus of their present lives. Each student should be able to find other examples of the spiritual perspective of II Corinthians.
k) II Corinthians 12:1-4
We can understand these verses to mean that Paul, in a vision, personally experienced what a believer can expect will happen to him when he dies or when he is raptured, that is, when he leaves his physical body at he end of time. The glory of Heaven was an expectation which helped Paul endure the afflictions of this life (II Cor. 4:16-18). It was his greatest hope (II Cor. 5:2-4).
First of all, we will show that the words in verse 2, "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago," can be taken as Paul's reference to himself. The clue that links these words to Paul is the phrase "above fourteen years." The only man he knew with which these words were associated was himself (Gal. 2:1). Although the way he puts it at first seems to imply that Paul is talking about another man, we can attribute the words "I knew a man" to an attempt to not overly glorify himself. As he says in II Corinthians 12:5 and 6, if he were to boast about anything in his life it would only be about things that were true in order to make a point. He would rather boast about his weakness rather than his visions and revelations, which the Corinthians have forced him to do. We should also notice that it is not unusual for a writer in the Bible to refer to himself in the third person. This is similar to what the apostle John did in his Gospel (John 13:23, 20:2, 21:7).
Next we will show that the vision is referring to what believers experience at death or at the rapture. Paul was obviously not dead yet, nor was it yet the end of time when he could expect to be raptured. However, the words "whether in the body, or out of the body" emphasize that Paul did not need his physical body to have the experience that he had in a vision. He adds in verses 2 and 3 "I cannot tell: God knoweth" to show that he is writing about something beyond his present experience, something that only God knows something about. The two parenthetical phrases point out that what he is describing is an experience that does not take place when a believer is in his physical body. What he describes is a vision of something that no man is able to say anything about because no man can die and then return to earth to explain what he experienced, nor has any man experienced something that will only take place in the future. Incidentally, the parenthetical phrases are given twice, which according to II Corinthians 13:1 means that the vision is confirmed to be true in the sense that it is not a made-up idea like a science fiction story, but something that could really happen and in God's timetable will happen (Gen 41:32).
The words "caught up" in verse 2 are used in I Thessalonians 4:17 and Revelation 12:5 to refer to the rapture of believers at the end of time. The words "third heaven" describe where God is. The words "into paradise" in verse 4, also refer to where God is (Luke 23:43, Rev. 2:7). Altogether, these phrases show that we are on the right track when we understand the vision to refer to death or the rapture. In either case, a believer leaves his physical body and goes to be with God. Paul was still in his physical body when he had his vision. However, since no one can see God in his flesh and live (Ex. 33:20), the experience of Paul in his vision was as if he did not have his sinful, fleshly body. In a figure, he was with God in the way all believers are after they die or after the end of the world.
Now we will try to understand the things he heard in his vision. The word "unspeakable" in verse 4 is used only here in the Bible. It simply means "not spoken." The understanding of the phrase "unspeakable words" is found in the phrase "which it is not lawful for a man to utter." The word "lawful" refers almost always to the Law of God, those words which express His will. Thus the words "not lawful" can be understood in the sense of Matthew 12:2 or John 5:10 to mean "it is not God's will or plan." We can understand the word "man" in the same way as it is used elsewhere to refer to man as part of the unsaved human race (I Cor. 1:25).
Putting all of this together, we can say that II Corinthians 12:4 is similar to the message of I Corinthians 2:9. The things which Paul heard in his vision were those things which an unsaved man could not speak about because they are spiritual things of Heaven, and it is not God's will that all men know them. In other words, verse 4 is restating the familiar truth that it is God's will to hide His Gospel from unbelievers (II Cor. 4:3). He uses Satan to blind men (II Cor. 4:4) and His Spirit to make them see (I Cor. 2:10) all according to His plan (Matt. 11:25-27). Ordinarily, men cannot know or speak of the things of Heaven because they are spiritual things that come from God. However, God reveals them to those who are citizens of Heaven. By God's grace, He gives men His Spirit so that they can understand and to utter the Gospel of Heaven.
What is the message of this strange passage? It is not describing some exotic experience that is unique to Paul. Rather, it was a preview of every believer's future. As God ministers through His people, He comforts them with the truth that the Gospel promise includes a future glory. In Paul's case, he had a preview in a vision as an apostle in which God comforted him with the Gospel's promise so that he could comfort others (II Cor 1:4). In the case of other believers, while they do not have visions, they have the same comfort as Paul, for they can read God's Word which talks about the same Gospel promise (II Cor. 1:10, 4:14, Rom. 15:4, I Thess. 4:16-18).
Therefore, one message of II Corinthians 12:1-4 is that Paul and all the rest of God's children can expect to be with the God they love and clearly know His will. That is every believer's hope and joy (Psalm 17:15, 140:13, Matt. 5:8, I Cor. 13:12, Heb. 12:14). It is perfectly acceptable for believers to have a rapture or heavenly mentality as they live in this world (II Cor. 4:14,18, 5:2,4, I Thess. 4:17,18).
Another message of this passage is that God was confirming to Paul that he was His minister. God confirmed it to him through a special revelation to highlight the fact that Paul was different than most other ministers, for Paul was an apostle and wrote a good portion of the Bible (Gal. 1:12, I Thess. 2:13, II Pet. 3:15,16). It was a reminder of his responsibility as God's minister (II Cor. 2:16, 3:5) as well as an assurance of God's support amid the many challenges and distresses which he endured as God's minister (II Cor. 4:10, 12:10).
l) II Corinthians 12:7
Many people focus upon the word "flesh" and say that the word "thorn" refers to a physical problem which Paul had to endure. Using Galatians 4:15 and 6:11 for support, they say that the most likely possibility would have been poor eyesight. Considering the physical hardships and opposition Paul had experienced, he no doubt may have developed several physical handicaps, including eye problems. However, II Corinthians 12:7 is not referring to one of the physical problems Paul suffered.
The words "a thorn in the flesh" are explained in the phrase which follows. The word "messenger" in that phrase is the same word translated "angel" in II Corinthians 11:14, the only two places it is found in this book. In II Corinthians 11:14,15, the idea is that Satan deceitfully presents himself as a messenger of light and sends his messengers out in the same way. By this comparison, we must understand the word "messenger" in II Corinthians 12:7 in the same way, that is, the messenger is Satan's false minister of the Gospel. That is the "thorn" which Paul had to endure as he lived and ministered in his flesh.
From II Corinthians 11:22, we can further identify the messengers of II Corinthians 12:7 as those Jews inside and outside the church who bitterly opposed Paul. A term that is used today to describe them is "Judaiser." They were people who insisted on obedience to the Law of God for righteousness while Paul declared the Gospel of grace alone, apart from works of the Law.
The word "thorn" is used in several place in the Bible to refer to people who are the enemies of God's people. The idea is that they are unsaved people, associated with the curse of God in Genesis 3:18. Notice especially that Numbers 33:55 refers to them by the phrase "thorns in your sides" which is similar to the phrase in II Corinthians 12:7 (Josh. 23:13, Song. 2:2, Ezek. 28:24). These comparisons force us to conclude that Paul's thorn refers to the harassment and persecution he endured at the hands of the false apostles of Christ rather than a physical malady of some kind.
The word "strength" in II Corinthians 12:9 is the same word translated "power" in Romans 1:16 which equates it to the Gospel. Therefore, the purpose of God in allowing Paul to endure this thorn was the same as in I Corinthians 1:27-29 and II Corinthians 4:7-10. God uses weak human flesh to do a spiritual job. The flesh does not contribute anything. It is only a vessel. Therefore, while we may see human ministers working in this world, it is the God we do not see who is the real minister in this world. This arrangement makes it clear that to Him belongs all the glory.
m) II Corinthians 13:5
The word "reprobate" in this verse is composed of the prefix a, which means "not" and the root dokimos, which is translated "trial." A form of the root is used in verse 3 as the word "proof." The idea of all this is that Paul is turning the tables on his accusers. While they seek to put him on trial, he is telling them to see if they have passed the great trial of all trials referred to in II Corinthians 5:10. Are they saved and so have Christ in them? Or are they "not-tried" in Christ, and subject to the judgment to come?
This verse reminds us of II Corinthians 6:2. The time for the Corinthians to examine themselves is "now," before it is too late. Some Corinthians had accused Paul of being dishonest with his words (II Cor. 1). Paul wants those who accuse him and who glory as Christ's ministers to check themselves to see if they are honest themselves. It could be that they are not saved at all. It is always appropriate for a person to make his calling and election sure (I Cor. 9:27, II Peter 1:10). But this verse applies particularly to those who challenge the true ministry of God and the ministers that He sends into the world. The sense of this verse is that those who challenge the truth of God ought to make sure now that at the end of time they are not examined by the same Gospel they criticize.
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