There is no real break between chapters 4 and 5, for he passes on to
show that if our outward man does perish, and so our earthly tabernacle
house be dissolved, we are to have a house of another order which shall
be eternal. The thought of what is eternal links these verses
together. Eternal things are brought within the sight of our faith. An
eternal weight of glory awaits us. And we shall need a resurrection
body, which shall be eternal, in order to sustain that eternal weight
of glory without being crushed by it. It is absolutely certain that
such a resurrection body shall be ours. "We know," he says. He had established that fact in the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle; so that they knew it as well as he.
Our bodies are spoken of as houses in which we dwell, and very
appropriately so. Our present bodies are only "tabernacle" or "tent"
houses, comparatively flimsy structures and easily taken down. Our
future bodies in the resurrection world will be of a different order,
as 1 Corinthians 15 has shown us. Here we learn that they will be "not
made with hands;" that is, spiritual, and not of an earthly or human
order. They will be eternal, for in them we shall enter into eternal
scenes. Also they will be heavenly. Our present bodies are natural and
earthly and abide but for a time.
In these opening verses of chapter 5 we read of being "clothed," and
being "unclothed;" of being "clothed upon," and of being "naked." We
dwell at present in an earthly tent, clothed in bodies of humiliation.
Presently we shall be clothed in glorified bodies of a spiritual,
eternal and heavenly order. All the dead will be raised; even the
wicked will appear before their Judge clothed in bodies. But though
clothed they will be found spiritually naked before that great white
throne. If we are true Christians we shall never be found naked thus,
though we may be unclothed, for that word denotes the state of those
saints who are "absent from the body" (verse 5) in the presence of the
Lord. Paul himself, and myriads more beside, are unclothed at the
present moment, but that unclothed state, blessed though it is, is not
the great object of our desire. What we do long for, while we groan in
our present weakness, is this clothing upon with our house from heaven.
All those who are raised will be "clothed," but only the saints will
be "clothed upon," for the reference here is to that which will take
place at the coming of the Lord. The term is perhaps particularly
appropriate as regards those who are alive and remain to the coming of
the Lord. Such will all be changed, and so enter the resurrection
state. They will in the twinkling of an eye be invested with their
glorified bodies, and so clothed upon with their house from heaven.
Thus in a moment mortality-which is attached to our present bodies-will
be swallowed up of life.
Let us not read the two expressions, "in the heavens," and "from
heaven," in a materialistic sense, as some have done. We must not
conceive of our future glorified bodies as though they were a new and
improved suit of clothes, already existing somewhere in heaven, and
coming to us straight out of heaven. So thinking, we should find
ourselves in collision with 1 Corinthians 15: 42-44, where a certain
identity is preserved between the body of humiliation which is put down
into the ground and the body of glory that is raised up. Those
expressions indicate character rather than place. Heaven is our
destiny, and we shall enter there in bodies which are heavenly in their
origin and character.
We have the happy assurance of these things, and can say, "we know," because God has spoken and revealed them to us. But not only so, He has acted in
keeping with what He has revealed. He has already "wrought us" for this
very thing. This alludes to that spiritual work wrought in us and with
us by the Holy Ghost. God by His Spirit has been the Potter, and we
have been the clay. This clothing upon, of which we have just been
speaking, is described in Romans 8 as the quickening of our mortal
bodies. Our mortal bodies shall be quickened, but already God has wrought
a quickening work as regards our souls, and this present work is in
anticipation of the work that is yet to be done as regards our bodies.
Moreover He has already given us His Spirit, as the Earnest of what is
What God has wrought by His Spirit must be distinguished from the
Spirit Himself, given to those who are subjects of His work. The order
in this fifth verse is first, the work of the Spirit: second, the
indwelling of the Spirit as the Earnest; the one preparatory to the
Hence the Apostle can say, "we are always confident." How could it
be otherwise? We have the plain revelation of God as to it. We have the
work of God in keeping with it. We have the gift of God-even His Holy
Spirit-as the pledge and foretaste of it. Could anything be more
certain and secure? Difficulties may throng around us, as they did
around Paul. We too may groan, as burdened in our mortal bodies. But
that which lies before us in resurrection is perfectly clear and sure.
We too may be always confident: as confident when our sky is filled
with black thunder clouds as when it is for the moment wholly blue.
For the moment we are at home in the body and absent from the Lord,
left here to walk not by sight but by faith. Paul's confidence was such
that he was willing-even more than willing, pleased-to be
absent from the body and present with the Lord. This is his portion
today, and the portion of all those who have died in the faith of
Christ. They are absent from their bodies which have been laid in the
grave, waiting the moment when they shall be clothed in bodies of
glory. But even now they are present with the Lord, and in all the
conscious blessedness of His presence, as the opening verses of 2 Cor.
12 bear witness.
There are those who assert that assurance and confidence as to one's
future is bound to have a disastrous effect on one's behaviour. That
idea however is definitely negatived by verse 9. Were it a true idea we
should read, "We are confident, I say . . . wherefore we"-take our ease
and are indifferent and careless. The exact opposite is what it does
say-"wherefore we labour . . ." The word here is not the usual one for
"work." It has the sense of "being zealous," or even "ambitious." The
very confidence we have stirs us to an earnest zeal; and this is our
ambition that come what may, whether life or death, we may be "accepted
of Him," or, "agreeable to Him." We are "accepted in the Beloved" as
Ephesians 1 tells us. Now we want to be agreeable, or well-pleasing, to
This desire to please the Lord is surely an instinctive one in every
heart that loves Him; yet all too often it does not burn as it should.
So the Apostle now brings in another fact that is calculated to stir it
to greater vehemence. When He comes Christ will set up His judgment
seat. It will not be like a criminal court: that is reserved for the
occasion when the great white throne is established, as we see in
Revelation 20. It will be more like a naval prize court, when the
judges sit to adjudicate as to captures during naval warfare, and the
actions of officers and men come up for review, and prize money is
awarded in many cases.
Before that judgment seat we must all appear; that is, we must all
be manifested. Everything must come into the light in the presence of
our Lord. Would we wish it to be otherwise? If there were left episodes
of our lives, some of them marked by failure and shame, as to which the
Lord had never had anything to say to us, would there not be a sense of
reserve? Would not our otherwise bright eternity be clouded over in
part by the feeling that some day they might be dragged into the light?
Solemn though that judgment seat must be, it is yet a matter for
rejoicing that it is to stand at the very threshold of the eternity of
glory that awaits us. Before it we ourselves are to be manifested, and
consequently all that we have been and done will come under the
scrutiny of our Lord. That will mean seeing everything as through His
eyes, and getting His verdict. It will mean the unravelling of every
mysterious episode that has marked our way; the discovery of the why
and wherefore of innumerable trying experiences; together with a full
understanding of the amazing grace of our God, and the efficacy of the
Priesthood and Advocacy of Christ.
It will also mean reward or loss, according to what has been done
"in the body;" that is, in the whole of our lives of responsibility
here. This is what we see also in 1 Corinthians 3: 14, 15; only there
it is distinctly a question of the character of our work as servants of
the Lord. Here it is more general and comprehensive, being a question
of all our actions and ways.
The thought of that judgment seat evidently carried the mind of the
Apostle on to the fact that before the Lord Jesus ultimately all men
will stand, whether saved or unsaved. And as he thought of these
latter, and recognized what the terror of it would be for them, he was
moved to warn and persuade them. He was moved also in another direction
more personal to himself and the Corinthians: moved to live in such a
way as to be manifested to God, and also in the consciences of his
The word for "manifest" really occurs three times in these two
verses, but at the beginning of verse 10 it is translated, "appear."
Substitute "be manifested', there, and the connection becomes plain. If
we live our lives in the remembrance of the certainty of being
manifested before the judgment seat, we shall be careful to maintain
open, honest, manifested dealings with God now. When we sin we shall at
once humble ourselves in confession before Him, and attempt to conceal
or palliate nothing. Further we shall, like Paul, not attempt to appear
other than we are in the eyes of our fellow-believers. We shall be open
and transparent in all our dealings with them, and not desire or seek a
cheap reputation for a devotedness or sanctity which we do not possess.
There were some in Paul's day who were doing this, as verse 12 bears
Are we living in the light of the judgment seat? A great question
this! Let each answer it in his own conscience before God. Depend upon
it, if we are we shall be characterized by lives of devotedness,
unworldliness and zeal. We shall be transparent before both God and
man. And we shall be keen to persuade men as Paul was. We shall
earnestly seek the salvation of souls to the glory of God.
The Apostle Paul was marked by a very fervent zeal. It produced
within him a great desire to be acceptable to the Lord, to be open and
transparent with his brethren, and to persuade men in view of the
coming judgment. His zeal was such that sometimes it carried him clean
outside himself, and men labelled him as fanatical, as Festus did when
he called out, "Paul, thou are beside thyself." But Paul was no
fanatic, for when thus beside himself it was "to God;" that is, God was
the Object before him; he was outside himself because God was so truly
inside-"he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1
John 4: 16).
We may find it difficult to understand this being "beside
ourselves," and still more difficult to explain it. That may be because
it is an experience almost, if not entirely, unknown to us. Very
possibly we move in circles where zeal of the Pauline stamp would be
looked upon as fleshly energy from the spiritual standpoint, and quite
bad form from the social point of view. How great then is our loss!
But Paul was not always in an ecstasy Godward. He also knew well how
to look out with sober-minded wisdom upon the interests of his Lord.
Then he cared in a calculating way for the people of God, the
Corinthians among them. And in this, as much as in the other, the love
of Christ was the power that wrought within him and constrained him.
That love had been expressed in His death, and it exerted its pressure
on Paul, both in his affections toward God and His saints, and also as
guiding his judgment. Constrained by the love, he was able to judge
aright as to the significance of the death in which the love was
Christ "died for all." Here we have His death stated in its widest
extent. He did not die for the Jew merely nor for any lesser circle
than "all." This is a fact in which we may well rejoice, but what does
it imply? This, that all were in a state of spiritual death: all were
but dead men before God. This was the implication of His death.
But what was the purpose of His death? Its purpose was to
provide a way of life for at least some, and to alter the whole
character of life for these living ones.
Verse 15, you notice, begins with His death and ends with His
resurrection. The intervening words set forth the design and purpose
connected with those two great facts. They were in order that those who
have been quickened into life might find in the risen Christ the Object
and End of the new life they live. In our unconverted days we each of
us had ourselves as the object and end of our lives. Everything was
made to revolve around and contribute to self. Now things are to be
entirely different with us, and everything in life is to revolve around
and contribute to the interest and glory of Christ. Such at least is
the Divine purpose and intention for us.
Verse 16 springs out of this, as the first word, "Wherefore," bears
witness. Because Christ is no longer among us in the life of this
world, and because we also now live in connection with Him, a new order
of things has come in. Even Christ Himself is known by us in a new way.
Paul had not been amongst those who knew Christ "according to flesh" in
the days of His flesh. But even if he had been, he would have known Him
thus no longer. But also we know no man after the flesh. That is not
because men are not in the old condition according to flesh; for the
great mass of them are. It is because of the subjective change wrought
in ourselves. The Christian learns to look at men in a new way, not
because of what has been wrought in them but because of what has been
wrought in himself.
What has been wrought is stated in verse 17-a work of new creation
in Christ. As newly created in Christ we find ourselves in a new world.
We are not there yet as regards our bodies. That awaits the coming of
the Lord. But we are there as regards our minds and spirits. Even today
our spirits move amid things totally new, things utterly unknown in our
unconverted days; also even the old things of this present creation,
amongst which we move, are viewed by us in a new way.
This truth needs to be thoroughly digested by all of us. How much
difficulty arises amongst Christians because they know and have
dealings with one another according to flesh, that is, on the old basis
and after the manner of the world. Then it is the easiest and most
natural thing possible to drop into parties and cliques, to have our
likes and dislikes, to be tremendously friendly with this or that
fellow-believer until some disagreement arises, when an equally
tremendous antagonism breaks out. All that kind of thing, even the
friendship and the pleasantry and the apparent concord, rests on a
wrong basis. It is according to flesh, and not according to new
creation and the Spirit of God. If all saints knew one another upon the
new basis what a transformation would come over the aspect of things
that at present prevails in the church of God.
Verse 18 adds a further fact. We are reconciled to God by Jesus
Christ, as well as being a new creation in Christ. Now reconciliation
involves the removal of all that is offensive to God in us and about
us, including that enmity of heart that kept us away from Him. As the
fruit of reconciliation God can look down upon us with joy and
complacency, and we can look up to Him with confidence and responsive
When Christ was here, God was in Him with reconciliation in view for
the whole world. He came to bring men to God, not to arraign them
before God, bringing them to book as regards their sins. This we see
strikingly exemplified in John 8: 11. But God's overtures to men in
Christ, with reconciliation in view, were rejected and He was put to
death. It is one of the chief wonders of the Gospel that
notwithstanding this His death became the basis of the reconciliation
that is being announced today.
We believers are now reconciled to God; and as reconciled ourselves
we have a part in the ministry of reconciliation. When the Apostle
wrote, "We are ambassadors for Christ," he probably was thinking of
himself and his fellow-labourers and the other apostles, for they were
in a special sense put in trust with the Gospel; yet his words have an
application to every believer. The church of God is like a divine
embassy in the hostile world, and each of us has to remember that we
are a part of that embassy, and that our attitude towards men has to be
in keeping with the word of reconciliation that we carry. At the end of
verse 20 we get as in a nutshell what the word of reconciliation is.
The words, "you," "you," and "ye," are not in the original. "God as it
were beseeching by us, we entreat for Christ, Be reconciled to God" (N.
And if, when we thus entreat men, they turn to us asking on what
basis such a reconciliation is possible, we can answer in the words of
the last verse. The basis lies in God's own act, accomplished in the
death of Christ.
There is a profound depth in verse 21 that defies all our feeble
attempts at explanation. That God should make Christ to be a sacrifice
for sin might be explained in terms of those Old Testament sacrifices
that furnish a type of His sacrifice. But that God should make Him, who
knew no sin, TO BE SIN for us baffles all explanation. Again, we might
offer some explanation of how we are justified, of how righteousness is
imputed to those who believe. But how we may in Him be MADE THE
RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD is beyond us. Sin wholly characterized us, and all
that we were He was made when He died on the cross. Righteousness
wholly characterizes God, and that which He is we are made in Christ.
On the one hand then, all that we were is removed, and all that God
is has been established, and we established in it. Here evidently is a
perfect and unchallengeable basis for the reconciliation that we enjoy,
and that we are privileged to proclaim to others.
Let us pause at this point to observe how the Apostle has been led
through a considerable digression, from about 2 Cor. 4: 7, springing
out of the reference there made to the circumstances pressing in upon
himself as a minister of the new covenant and the vessel of the light.
The digression is completed at the end of 2 Cor. 5, and again we see
him as a minister, but this time of the word of reconciliation. The
word of reconciliation doubtless goes beyond the terms of the ministry
of the new covenant, and it is helpful to distinguish the one from the
other. Yet we must not divide them as though there were two gospels.
The one gospel of God is so great and comprehensive that it may be
considered in these varied ways.