2 Corinthians 9
But the apostle has a good deal more to say on a subject so constantly and often urgently needed in the assembly, where the poor are apt ever to abound. He had brought before the Corinthians the bright example of the Macedonian believers, notwithstanding circumstances most unpromising naturally. And this had stirred up the apostle to urge on Titus the completion of this grace also in Achaia which the Corinthians had begun a year ago. Not that he spoke by commandment, but through the zeal of others and proving the genuineness of their love, while setting before them the incomparable grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to act on their souls. So God in giving the manna to Israel took care that, whatever the inequality in gathering, none should be in excess and none want: was there to be less regard for each other in the church? Love desired not the case of those, nor pressure on these, but rather a principle of equality in mutual consideration of each other, and this wherever the church is found. Then he sets forth the hearty diligence in this matter of Titus, who had gone about what remained to be done at Corinth with two other brethren; for thus had the apostle lent the contribution importance whilst guarding it from the smallest imputation of evil, and calling on the Corinthians to make good their love and his own boasting of them.
“For about the ministration for the saints it is superfluous for me to write to you. For I know your readiness which I boast of you to Macedonians that Achaia hath been prepared a year ago, and your93 zeal stimulated the mass. Yet I sent the brethren in order that our boasting of you may not be made vain in this respect, that (as I said) ye may be prepared; lost, haply, if Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we may be ashamed, that we say not ye in this confidence.94 I thought it necessary therefore to exhort the brethren that they would go before unto you and complete beforehand your blessing promised before,95 that it be ready thus as blessing, not as96 covetousness. But this [I say], he that soweth Sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth in blessings shall reap also in blessings; each as he hath purposed97 in his heart, not of sorrow or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (Vers. 1-7.)
From Galatians 2: “we know how earnest our apostle was like the rest as to the general principle, and how in this particular case his heart went out to the distressed saints in Jerusalem, none the less because his part of the work was emphatically toward the Gentiles. But his delicacy is no less striking and instructive here, where he gives the saints in Corinth full credit for the same love which overflowed his own heart; “it is superfluous for me to write to you.” They had been taught it of God themselves. Why then did he write so amply? Not because he did not know their ready mind; not because they had failed to give him ground to glory in what God had wrought in this respect; for as he in the last chapter boasted of the Macedonians triumphing over their trying and needy circumstances in their most generous remembrance of the poor saints in Judea, so now he lets the Corinthian saints know his habit of boasting of themselves to Macedonians, and very especially in their preparation for this call a year ago.
Hence, no doubt, it is that in his zeal for themselves and the Lord’s honour in them, and seeking the happy flow of love in every way, he speaks (in the epistolary aorist) of sending the brethren referred to in the close of the preceding chapter, in order to guard in this particular against mishap in his boast on their behalf. He wanted them to be prepared beyond danger of disappointment as far as pains on his part could secure it. How painful for him, not to say for them, it would be if brethren came from Macedonia and found shortcoming in the very saints, the report of whose zeal had acted so powerfully in kindling their own! What shame on all sides if this confidence in the Corinthians should not prove well-founded! He did not wish, as we know from 2 Corinthians 16, that there should be collections when he came himself; as he would guard against haste on the one hand or personal influence on the other, or malevolent insinuation. But his love for them and desire for the Lord’s glory in the business made him exhort Titus and his two companions to go on before to Corinth and previous to his own arrival complete their fore-promised blessing. Compare, for this use of “blessing,” Genesis 33:11, Judges 1:15, 2 Kings 5:15; it is love not in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth, 1 John 3:18.
The apostle’s longing was, not merely that their proposed beneficence should be ready, but in such sort as blessing, and not as covetousness, meeting thus the danger on both sides. As he would have it a blessing on the givers’ part, he repudiates all covetousness on the part of those receiving it for the poor saints. He does not seem to limit his caution to the former nor to allude in covetousness to a niggardly spirit, any more than to make
πλ. mean “tenacity,” instead of the desire of having more which soon runs into tricky means to get more.
But this further he adds, a wholesome thing to remember, being truth in God’s moral government, and of all moment in our life on earth: he that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that sows with blessings shall reap also with blessings. It is no question of correspondence in kind, but it may be spiritually also and so much the better. Still it is true, and especially among God’s people, as it always was. (See Prov. 11:24, 25.) Scripture indeed teems with it in one form or another; and experience is the sure and plain commentary. God despises not what is given to the poor saints; but the spirit of giving is far more important than the gift. Therefore the apostle follows up the apothegm he had just applied: each just as he has predetermined in his heart, not of sorrow or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver, quoting Prov. 22:8 (Alex. LXX). To grudge and grieve over what is given is unworthy of a saint of His; to exact it no less unworthy of His servant. How needed is faith here as everywhere! how energetic is love, which is our only due spring in this as in all else practically, whatever the encouragements God may and does give those whom grace has called and strengthens to walk in the path of Christ! Himself the sovereign giver of all good, He loves to see the reflection of His grace and blessing in His children.
The close of the apostolic exhortation on giving is admirably in keeping with all we have had already. Not only does God love a cheerful giver, but He is able in His grace to see that there shall be means to give, and not in this form only, but for every good work. “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth.” (Prov. 11:24.)
“And God is able to make every grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in every [thing], may abound unto every good work; as it is written, He scattered, he gave to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever.” (Vers. 8, 9.) No doubt that God has now revealed Himself in Christ according to His own nature, in view of heaven and eternity; no doubt He has given us life in His Son and redemption through His blood and union with that glorified man at His right hand, that we might glory in nought but His cross here below, and count not life dear to serve the Lord in His way and our measure, as we wait for Him from heaven. But this does not hinder the government of God and the pleasure He takes in blessing large and generous hearts, as of old, so now. Special privileges do not forbid His general principles, and His power finds a way in His wisdom to harmonise all. And the apostle, who knew better than any what it was to suffer with Christ and for Christ, is just the suited one, out of his capacious mind and heart, to communicate the assurance of these His unchanged ways, for which he cites Psalm 112:9; the beautiful description of man blessed in the kingdom when divine judgment introduces it by-and-by. Then the fear of Jehovah and obedience will have might on the same side, and judgment will return to righteousness, and wealth in no wise corrupt it, but it endures for ever with a spirit of compassion and gracious consideration of others. There may be judicial ways peculiar to that day as looking on his enemies, and his horn exalted, etc.; but true righteousness, far from being hard, dispenses with liberal hand from that which grace supplies abundantly. Nor could it be otherwise in the estimate of a true heart that now, in the day when grace is vouchsafed in other and deeper ways, it should fail in this. It is not so however; and He who shows us His mercy beyond measure or thought is able to make every grace abound, and this that we might have the blessed favour of imitating Him here too, or as the apostle puts it to the Corinthian saints, “that ye, it every time having every kind of sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work,” as it is written in the Psalms.
There is no need, we may by the way remark, of altering the force of “righteousness” here or elsewhere. It does not mean “benevolence” as the Geneva Version renders it with many a commentator, but comprehends it. (Cf. Matt. 6:1, 2.) Righteousness means consistency with relationship; and what can be more consistent than generous remembrance of want in others, especially in the household of faith, on the part of those who own that all is of grace in their own case?
But this is not all. Not only is God able thus to do, but He, the God of all grace, acts accordingly. “But he that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for eating will” supply and multiply your sowing and increase the fruits of your righteousness, [ye] being enriched in everything unto all liberality which worketh out through us thanksgiving to God.” (Vers. 10, 11) It is not a wish or prayer as in the Authorised Version, nor is it (with the same Version, the Vulgate, Luther, Calvin, etc.) correct to construe
χορηγήσαι “minister” or supply (were this the true form) with
ἄρτον εἰς βρ. (“bread for your food”). Compare Isaiah 55:10. It is an assurance that the God who amply provides for ourselves loves to furnish means as well as opportunities of blessing to others, as He delights in owning and rewarding these fruits of righteousness, which are really of His grace, as if they were ours and not of Him by us. The form of the sentence following is slightly irregular, the sense quite sure and plain, without introducing the parenthesis of the English or other versions. God would thus increase the fruits of their righteousness, “while ye are in everything being enriched with every kind of liberality, which is such as worketh out through us thanksgiving to God.” The word translated “liberality” is given in Romans 12:8 as “simplicity,” which is no doubt its literal force. But thence, from conveying the absence of excuse for not giving, it easily derived the sense here implied. The apostle acknowledges the source of all they had given — that they might abound in good works, reminds them of his own share in it whether in strengthening their zeal or in dispensing the fruit, and anticipates the thanksgiving of those about to be relieved by it rising up to God.
* The future appears in the most ancient and best MSS, B C D P, fifteen cursives, in the old Latin, Vulg. Cop. Arm. Aeth., etc.
On this last thought, the worthy conclusion of all previously urged, the apostle dilates to the end of the chapter. “Because the ministration of the service is not only filling up the wants of the saints, but also abounding through many thanksgivings to God; through the proof of this service [they] glorified God for the subjection of your confession unto the gospel of Christ and liberality of fellowship toward them and toward all; and their supplication for you, while longing for you, on account of the surpassing grace of God [bestowed] on you. Thanks [be] to God for his unspeakable gift.” (Vers. 12-15.) Thus is shown the true and proper character of such a loving contribution for the poor saints. It is an honourable service and a ministry of love. It meets their wants, but it flows over, and rises into many thanksgivings to God. It draws out praise from those who receive it in this subjection to His name; for why also thus liberally remember them at all? It rouses them to prayer with earnest longing for those who manifest such grace. And if such be the blessed effect of love working in the heart and the supplying the poor saints with that which otherwise perishes in the using, what shall we say or feel, as we think of Christ? Thanks to God for His undescribable gift. The reader will agree with me that it is strong to suppose the apostle could speak in such unmeasured terms of liberality in earthly things, however of grace. Spoken of Christ, of all God is to us in and by Him, what can be more proper? One would scarcely have deemed it needful to make even this brief remark, if Calvin and many others had not allowed a turn so derogatory, as it seems to me.
2 Corinthians 10.
From the exhaustive treatment of giving and receiving according to Christ which filled the two preceding chapters, the apostle turns to vindicate the authority given him in the Lord. This Satan had been bringing into question among the Corinthians, not merely to discredit the servant, but thereby to undermine the testimony and separate the saints from Him whose grace and glory were interwoven with it most intimately.
In the beginning of the epistle, now that they had begun to judge themselves in God’s sight truly, if as yet imperfectly, he could open his own heart and speak of his ways and his motives which had been so basely misconstrued; he had just alluded to his authority enough to indicate his possession of it with calmness of spirit but also unwillingness to exercise it with severity. He even appeals to God as a witness upon his soul that it was to spare them, not through fear or levity or any other unworthy reason, he had not come as yet to Corinth, but with marvellous tact and gracious skill he binds up, with his explanation of what had been misunderstood, the divine certainty we enjoy in Christ by God’s word and the power of the Spirit given to us. And then, just touching on the case of discipline which Satan had used and was still seeking to use to separate the Corinthians from the apostle, not only in judgment but in affection and in the mutual confidence which springs from it, he lets them know how that an evangelistic door, even opened to him in the Lord, failed to turn his loving heart from themselves at this critical juncture; but spite of all, he thanks God for always loading him in triumph in Christ, as in an ancient procession of victory where sweet spices were being burnt, harbinger of death to some of the captives and of life to others. This gives occasion to the admirable setting forth of the gospel of the glory of Christ, the ministration of the Spirit in an earthen vessel in contrast with that of the law which false teachers would ever mingle with it, and to the manifestation of the superiority of life in Christ over all that can obscure, menace, hinder or destroy, which runs through 2 Corinthians 3 - 2 Corinthians 6:10. Thence he returns to his relations with the Corinthian saints, but not without exhortation to keep them clear of every association of Satan, flesh and world, inconsistent with Christ.
After this, to the end of 2 Corinthians 7, he freely speaks of what had tended to make a practical breach between him and them. Then in true grace and wisdom he who took nothing for himself from the saints at Corinth proves how his heart beat freely toward them by informing them of the grace displayed in Macedonia notwithstanding their well-known and deep poverty in liberally contributing to the poor saints in Judea, and by giving the Corinthians an opportunity of proving the genuineness of their love, especially as they had begun a year ago but had not yet given effect to it; a work in which Titus shared the gracious desires of the apostle, not only as to the help itself for the suffering poor but also that the saints in Corinth should not fall behind their boasting about them. But therein he manifests with equal strength the avoidance of all reproach on the part of those engaged with himself in administering the relief, and the manifold blessing of such liberality, and God’s delight in it, whether one thinks of the saints that give or of the saints that receive through His grace who is Himself the unspeakable gift of God.
The apostle did not love to speak of himself or even of his authority, high as it was and most surely conferred by the Lord. But there was a necessity for the Corinthians as for the Galatians; but here he reserves it for and pursues it to the close of the epistle; whereas there he could not but begin with it, the call being yet more urgent.
“But I myself Paul entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of the Christ, [I] who according to appearance [am] mean among you but absent am bold toward you — but I beseech that present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I count to be daring against some that count of us as walking according to flesh. For walking in flesh we do not war according to flesh. For the arms of our warfare [are] not fleshly but powerful with God to the pulling down of strongholds, pulling down reasonings and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and leading captive every thought unto the obedience of Christ, and being in readiness [or ready] to avenge every disobedience when your obedience shall have been fulfilled.” (Vers. 1-6.)
It seems that Paul physically had nothing of a showy presence, such as men like generally, most of all perhaps Greeks. But besides his was a lowly and gracious bearing which judged self and set it aside, as in everything, so particularly in the delicate task of dealing with others; which did not suit the Corinthian mind, nor seem in keeping with the apostolic office: especially as the apostle could and did to them write severely now and then in his first epistle. His adversaries accordingly took advantage of all this in seeking to aggrandise themselves and to lower the apostle and his teaching. He appears here and elsewhere to take up their words and meet them in the Spirit, as one who had learnt the lesson, if over saint did, of death and resurrection with Christ. He therefore introduces himself, now that they had morally compelled it, with straightforwardness and dignity; and he entreats them by the meekness and gentleness of the Christ, which had as great price in his eyes, as it seemed to have none in theirs. Did detractors tax him with a mean appearance, but withal boldness when absent, that is, in his letters? Well, he says, I beseech that I may not when present have to be bold (
θαρρῆσαι) with the confidence with which I am (not “reckoned,” but) minded, or think to be daring (
τολμῆσαι) against some that think of us as walking according to flesh. Whatever the energy and fervid zeal and depth of feeling and strength of will found in his natural character, Paul had borne himself among the Corinthians with a self-forgetting humility and the forbearance of active love. It was what he had seen in the Master he served, and this reproduced itself in his adoring heart and in his ways. Let men beware of despising in the servant what was the fruit of the perfection of Christ. But who also so unsparing in his words? Is there the least incongruity? What can be so outspoken as love — the love of Christ? Did Paul find pleasure in blaming his “beloved sons” in the faith? It was and must be due to their state if he came with a rod, or in love and the spirit of meekness. So far from liking to censure, as enemies insinuated, he beseeches that he may not when present have to exercise his authority with a power withering to those who opposed the Lord and sought to cloak their own carnality under such an imputation against him. Revelling in the grace of God for his own soul, it was his deepest grief to see saints misled by Satan, forsaking their own mercies, grieving the Spirit, and putting the Lord’s name to disrepute. It was not of Paul to lord it over the faith of any; he was a workman, and a fellow-workman, of their joy. And it was his joy far more than theirs. But he was servant in all he had received of the Lord Jesus, and responsible to use his authority where requisite. And as he had spoken out in his letter, so he would act when present; but he would rejoice if no such need arose. For he sought not himself, nor his things, not theirs, but them.
“For walking in the flesh we war not according to flesh.” All who live here below can say the former; how few, the latter — at least as the apostle could. But it was because the weapons of his warfare were not fleshly but mighty “with” God, “before,” “according to,” or “for,” Him.98 Flesh prides itself on its own resources within which it entrenches itself against God, who works in His children when dependent, least of all in His own when independent. The enemy was seeking to bring back again fleshly wisdom, which like all that is of the first man attracts nature and exalts itself against the knowledge of God, for this is inseparable from Christ, and from Christ dead and risen. If we war not according to flesh, it must be by pulling down reasonings and every high thing exalted (or exalting itself thus) and leading captive every thought unto the obedience of the Christ. This is the object and effect of dependence, as wrought by the Spirit of God. For there is nothing harder to man than contentedness with being nothing; nor does aught hinder the obedience of Christ more than subtle self-seeking.
We may see in the first how the apostle employed those arms with God to the overthrowing of strongholds, whatever the reasoning or the high thing that was lifted up against the knowledge of God. Take their fleshly zeal for Paul, Apollos, or Cephas: he brings in Christ and His cross to judge its roots, declaring that the former were but ministering servants through whom they themselves believed and as the Lord gave to each; and in fact all theirs, and they Christ’s and Christ God’s. It was a carnal corruption of their privileges. Take their worldly ease: with such an unbelieving anticipation of the day when we shall all reign together, he contrasts the apostles set by God as the last appointed to death, despised, suffering, and become as the world’s offscouring until now. Take their appeal to law courts: he confronts the indignity of saints, who are to judge the world and angels, prosecuting suits one against another before the unjust. Take their laxity about temple feasts: he shows that their boasted intelligence about the vanity of idols was exposing them to Satan’s snare, and drawing them into communion with demons. Take lastly their denial that the dead rise: he proves that it virtually upsets the resurrection of Christ, and consequently the gospel with all their heavenly privileges and hope. Thus admirably does the former epistle lead captive every thought into the obedience of Christ.
But the apostle adds another word which yet more brings out the grace and wisdom which wrought in and by him. “And being in readiness [or, as we say, being ready] to avenge every disobedience when your obedience shall have been fulfilled.” (Ver. 6.) He loved the saints, and even more Christ’s glory in the church. Therefore he could stay away and be mis-represented, but still wait till the word was brought home by the Spirit. This had been in part at least: the gross evil had been not only got rid of, but the saints in Corinth had been deeply moved in judging their own haughty and insensible state, and were now in danger really of’ veering to the opposite extreme of judicial hardness toward the one who had not only sinned without shame but ensnared them also. Grace becomes the church as well as righteousness, yea it should characterise us now as earthly righteousness was looked for in Israel. But grace in the apostle could wait, not with indifference at any time, but in all patience now that conscience was working, till their obedience should be fulfilled, never giving up Christ’s title to punish every sort of disobedience, and not merely what was scandalous. He would have them all with himself united for the Lord against every evil thing. The church must renounce Christ if it sit down in quiet acceptance of what denies His name. But grace knows how to hail a little that is of God, and looks for all according to His will in due time, in the solemn judgment of what is repugnant to His nature and word.
Such is the way the apostle sets forth beseechingly the authority he had received in the Lord against the detraction of adversaries who were even yet exercising a poisonous influence over the saints. Nothing was farther from him than the fleshly, vacillating, and tortuous policy they attributed to him. But these are the common tactics of the enemy. The first to brand others with lack of spirituality, of fidelity or even integrity, are those who are themselves guilty in these very respects, and spend their breath in a restless endeavour to imbue all they meet with their own surmisings; until they seem at last not only to believe their every impression, but to be satisfied that rancour is true love and invective nothing but faithfulness to Christ. The apostle, after showing that it is one thing to walk in flesh, another to walk according to it, declares that we do not wax according to flesh. He puts it not as a merely personal question of fact, but as a matter of general christian principle and practice. The warfare of the saint derives its character from Christ. The liberty to which we are called gives no licence for flesh, as if violence or vituperation were consecrated in His service. His name gives no just plea to war according to flesh, but on the contrary reproves such carnality, and ought to awaken suspicion of the end because of the way. The arms of our warfare, powerful as they are with God to overthrow flesh’s strongholds, are of small value in carnal eyes. The apostle insists on all being reduced to the obedience of Christ, and on readiness to avenge every disobedience when their disobedience should have been completed. What are we here for if not for that obedience? Yet grace and wisdom would first deal with what most openly and seriously dishonours God; and then, when conscience answers to the word, would look for more, yea for all that is pleasing in His sight. God is in the assembly, His dwelling, His holy temple (however men may forget or fritter down the solemn fact), and surely there to give efficacy to His own word and will, as He then was to vindicate by His power the authority of His servant when undermined or denied.
“Do ye look on things according to appearance?99 If any one hath trust in himself that he is of Christ,100 let him of101 himself consider this again, that even as he [is] of Christ, so also we.102 For even103 if I should boast somewhat more abundantly of our authority which the Lord gave104 for building up and not for your overthrowing, I shall not be ashamed; that I seem not as it were to terrify you by letters: because his letters, saith one,105[are] weighty and strong, but the presence of the body weak and the speech contemptible. Let such a one consider this, that such as we are in word by letters when absent, such also in deed when present. For we dare not class or compare ourselves with some of those that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves among themselves and comparing themselves106 with themselves, are unintelligent [or without understanding].” (Vers. 7-12.)
It seems clear that Paul had nothing in presence or action, any more than in rank or position, to attract the fleshly or worldly mind. So we see elsewhere that the heathen who were struck by the miracles wrought called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes. Some of the Corinthians indulged in similar depreciation. They could not understand an apostle of such mean appearance, and a style of speech so little suitable to an ambassador of Christ. In this last respect they were much more fastidious than the Lycaonians who felt the force of Paul’s words. External manner had an egregious over-value in Achaian eyes. The apostle at once brings in Christ, who reduces all men and all things to their true level. “Do ye look on things according to appearance? If any one hath trust in himself that he is of Christ, let him of himself consider which answers to it. Bathe goes farther. “For even if I should boast somewhat more abundantly of our authority which the Lord gave for building up and not for your overthrowing, I shall not be ashamed; that I seem not as it were to terrify you by letters.” Now he quietly, but with firmness, lets them know how much more he might have put forward his apostolic authority. He had not talked, we may be sure, of the blindness he had inflicted on Elymas; he had written in his first epistle of delivering the incestuous offender to Satan, as well as of coming with a rod for the refractory in general. But he had not come, and these vain men treated the warning as vain words. But the Lord gave not in vain the function of acting as His spiritual right hand on earth, though its prime aim was for blessing, not punishment. Still the hand that can wield the trowel can use the scourge; and it were better to fear for their own bold irreverence than to put him to the proof, whether the Lord was with him now.
The apostle’s call was to build up, not to cast down; and love it is which builds up. But there was opposition to the Lord quite as much or more than to Paul in questioning the authority given him. And in order to sap and destroy it, advantage was taken of his words and ways to impute fickleness, vacillation, and untruthfulness, as we gather from the first chapter; lack of moral courage when present and despicable weakness in person and ministry, as we see here, aggravated by the heroic style of his letters when absent; craft, guile, and self-seeking, as it would seem from 2 Corinthians 12. Self-will never did lack material for disparaging the person, character, office and work of a servant beyond all example used, kept, and honoured of the Lord. If he refrained then from saying more, as he easily might and naturally would, of his authority in and from the Lord, it was that he might not seem as if he would frighten them by his letters. And this because his letters, said one, are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence weak and his speech of no account. Such was the carping of his adversaries or of one in particular. We can understand it well. Neither spirituality nor unworldliness nor faithfulness vaunts itself nor seeks to lower others; but flesh betrays thereby its pretensions and its party-spirit.
There were various parties in the Corinthians, and some who strove to stand clear in grace and truth; but of all this schismatic activity the Christ-party, I should gather, was the most obstinate. Certainly we have no allusion in the second Epistle to any other; but there appears to be a trace that the spirit of those who said, “I am of Christ,” claiming a peculiar and exclusive connection with Him, was not yet extinguished. The root of this error is judged in 2 Corinthians 5, especially verse 16. We can readily understand how it might creep in among men boasting of having seen, heard, and perhaps followed the Lord in the days of His flesh. Here the apostle bids the man (who is confident in himself that he is of Christ) of himself to think this again, that even as he is of Christ, so is Paul. How simple is the truth, how destructive of airy dreams which would misuse even Christ to flatter self! Nor is anything so holy or humble as the faith which cleaves to Him. Similarly of his authority from the Lord, as of his relationship to Him, he bids such a detractor think (ver. 11) that “such as we are in word by letters when absent, such also in deed [we will be] when present.”
It was the adversaries who had nothing to boast but words or manners, show or position. When he came, the apostle would know not the word of those puffed up, but the power; but he desired earnestly that it might be, through self-judgment on their part, a visit in love and in a spirit of meekness. But their state might compel him to use a rod, as it did to speak of himself when he would rather discourse only of Christ. Their boastfulness about themselves, their alienation from him, went along with real evil and error in some who misled them, with whose vaulting ambition he deals afterwards. For the present he contents himself with this severe rebuke: “For we dare not class or compare ourselves with some of those that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves with themselves, are unintelligent.” With this clique of self-satisfied men the apostle did not venture (he severely says, though with courtesy) to rank or compare himself and brethren like him; but he retires with a Parthian shaft, for he lets them know that to measure or compare themselves thus is the reverse of that intelligence on which they most plumed themselves.
Another thing forgotten by his adversaries the apostle here introduces. The sphere of work is not a question of human choice or judgment, but of the divine will. There were those who slighted the labours of Paul, and their fruit at Corinth; but as he had not entered on that field of his own will, so he had toiled in the face of difficulty and with signal blessing guaranteed for his encouragement from the first.
“We however will not boast as to things”.107 unmeasured, but according to the measure of the rule which God distributed to us, a measure to reach as far even as you. For we do not,108 as though not reaching unto you, overstretch ourselves, for even as far as you we advanced in the gospel of Christ, not boasting as to things unmeasured in another’s toils, but having hope, while your faith increaseth, to be enlarged among you according to our rule unto abundance, to preach the gospel unto the [quarters] beyond you, not to boast in another’s rule as to things made ready. But he that boasteth, in the Lord let him boast; for not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” (Vers. 13-18.)
The saving grace of God widely as it goes forth, even to all, falls nevertheless under the ordering hand of God who has His will about the sphere as well as the character of His service.
Others might boast immoderately. This is natural to the flesh, especially in vain minds. But the apostle laboured as he lived in the fear of God. Not a thought crossed him of displaying abilities; he was a servant, a bondman, of Jesus Christ; and so to him it was no question of liking or disliking, but of doing the work assigned to him, “according to the measure of the rule which God distributed to us, a measure to reach even to you.”
In truth as all the christian life is meant to be a matter of obedience, so in particular the work of the Lord; else will it speedily degenerate into vain glory or slighting others, and often better men than our. selves. So certainly it was here. The Lord had not called them as he did Paul to Corinth. They at their ease had followed where Paul had wrought with constant self-denial, and not outward labours only but deep exercise of soul; a labour in which grace alone could sustain by the Holy Ghost in continual dependence on the Lord. And the Lord had rejoiced his heart with much people, even in that corrupt city, brought to the knowledge of Himself. This was a work of divine power and goodness; but some had risen up or entered in since the apostle’s departure, whose worldly spirit depreciated the work, and claimed superior power. If Paul had begun, they were the men to finish. Was he not indeed too ready to begin and leave his work incomplete as he roved from place to place? For their part they preferred the chiefs who stayed and reared a statelier edifice, as in Jerusalem. This they now strove to do at Corinth.
Such vapouring the apostle simply and thoroughly disposes of by the great truth that God apportions the sphere of labour. Those who venture on an enterprise of the sort without God, must not wonder if their service be without His honour and blessing. Happy the man who is wont to look to God, not only for his soul and in his walk, but also in his work. Nor does God fail to vouchsafe His guidance in this as in all things where His servants wait on Him. It was a. new language doubtless to the self-exalting men of Corinth, jealous of the power and authority of the apostle. Power belongs to God, but He loves to use it in and by those who walk by faith; and now was the fitting time and place to make known the secret to the saints. It was “according to the measure of the rule which God dealt to us, a measure to reach as far even as you.” There was no overstraining in the apostolic word or work, as though not reaching to the Corinthians; “for even as far as you we advanced in the gospel of Christ.” None could deny this. The apostle had traversed many lands, planting the standard and proclaiming the good news of Christ in them all. He had done so as far as Corinth to the joy of many hearts. Let others boast then of lengths without measure; he and those like-minded would not boast of anything of the sort, more especially if it were taking advantage of other men’s toils, which he was careful to avoid. “But having hope, while your faith increaseth, to be enlarged among you according to our rule unto abundance.”
Thus admirably does the apostle rise above the pettiness of human conceit or pride in divine things, nowhere more offensive than there, on the one hand laying bare those cheap pretensions which turned to selfish account the toil of others; on the other, cherishing confidence in the grace of God that the faith He had given would grow and thus afford him an opportunity of being enlarged as he says among them, instead of being chilled and straitened by having to deal with serious and growing evils. For thus would he be set free in fact and in spirit to preach the gospel unto the quarters beyond them, instead of boasting in another’s rule as to things made ready. This his adversaries were doing, as we have seen, and as the apostle here says quietly, but none the less cuttingly.
But the Christian has a just ground of boasting There is One in whom we may and ought to boast, not self, but the Lord. So said the prophet of old, when the Jews were either glorying in idols or distrustful of Jehovah, who was laying bare their vanity and punishing their departure from Himself. So repeats the apostle now to the saints at Corinth. To glory in the Lord is due to Him and good for us; to glory elsewhere is a danger as well as a delusion. It connects more or less immediately with self; and not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
2 Corinthians 11.
The apostle loved to spend himself in the service of Christ or the saints, and begrudged a word about himself even when the occasion demanded it, at least when it might look like self-defence. His wisdom as his joy was to testify of Christ. To speak of himself even as His servant he counts “folly,” however needful. But it is part of the enemy’s tactics to undermine and lower, and destroy if possible a true servant of the Lord, no less than to cry up those that serve their own belly and by their fair speech and speciousness deceive the hearts of the guileless. For can anything be more calculated to frustrate testimony to Christ than to blacken the bearer of it in his motives, ways, and aims? Hence, as thus the object of unceasing detraction to the saints at Corinth by self-seeking men who were really Satan’s instruments in dishonouring Christ and corrupting the church, the apostle addresses himself, however reluctantly, to the necessary task of vindicating His name assailed in his own person and ministry.
“Would that ye might bear109 with me in some little110 folly;111 but even bear with me. For I am jealous as to you with a jealousy of God; for I betrothed you to one husband to present a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craft,112 your thoughts should be corrupted from the simplicity113 that is towards Christ. For if indeed he that cometh preacheth another Jesus whom we preached not, or ye receive a different spirit whom ye received not, or a different gospel which ye accepted not, ye might well bear with [it]. For I reckon that I am in nothing come short of those surpassingly apostles; but if even ordinary in speech, yet not in knowledge, but in every [way we were] made manifest [or, manifested it]114 in all things towards you. What! did I commit sin in humbling myself that ye might be exalted, because I gratuitously announced the gospel of God to you? Other churches I spoiled, receiving hire for service towards you. And when present with you and in want, I have not been a burden to any one (for my want the brethren on coming from Macedonia supplied); and in everything unburdensome to you I kept and will keep myself. There is Christ’s truth in me that this boasting shall not be stopped115 unto me in the quarters of Achaia. Wherefore? Because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do I will also do that I may cut off the occasion of those desiring an occasion, that wherein they boast they may be found even as we. For such [are] false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ: and no wonder,116 for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light: [it is] no great thing then if his servants also transform themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works.” (Vers. 1-15.)
He apologises first of all for having to speak, not of Christ only, but of himself. Yet if any one might be jealous over the Corinthian saints, he surely who betrothed them (such is his expressive figure) to one husband, to present in them a chaste maiden to Christ. Such is the destiny of the saints; they are loved, washed, sanctified, justified, in view of this intimate relationship to Christ, which was most real and sure to the apostle, not so to those who lowered the standard of future hope and present separateness and conscious nearness in love and holiness to Christ by allowance of ease in this life, and of association with the world in its objects and ways, its philosophy or even religion. It is not only that here have we no continuing city and seek the coming one, but that we are now espoused to one husband even Christ, and are called to judge not conduct only but unsuitable thoughts and feelings. And as Paul had thus espoused the saints at Corinth, could he be otherwise than jealous at the creeping in of so much that was inconsistent with presenting them a chaste virgin to Christ?
For it was not merely failure through unwatchfulness: false principles were being instilled, and some relished the poison. So he continues, “I fear lest by any means, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craft, your thoughts should be corrupted from the simplicity that is towards Christ.” In proportion as Christ is a living person to the soul, the reality of Satan’s counterworking will be owned. Insensibility to the wiles of the enemy as a true and active adversary to be resisted is the awful indication of an unbelief common and growing in Christendom. How many Christians there are who think and talk slightingly enough of the Corinthian saints, themselves more lax still, not in ways only, but in faith! Satan is to them scarce more than an abstraction, an ideal expression of the power of evil. So far were those addressed, poor as they might be spiritually, from such incredulity, that the apostle could refer without hesitation to the serpent beguiling Eve. The history of the fall in Genesis was as yet indisputable truth to all who called on the name of the Lord; even the manner of the tempter’s approach proved no difficulty, as it has to many a soul since, and this to their no small loss. Scripture recorded the simple, sober, solemn truth, which all heathenism attests in a traditional form more or less moulded into fable. And the latent enemy who employed the serpent is active still as ever, and now under Christianity is corrupting the thoughts of saints from the simplicity of the truth as to the Christ. For the merely professing mass the end will be the apostasy, and the man of sin revealed, whose coming is after the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness to them that perish.
And what had they got to warrant slight or alienation? “For if indeed he that cometh preacheth another [
ἄλλον] Jesus whom we preached not, or ye receive a different [
ἕτερον] spirit which ye received not, or a different gospel which ye accepted not, ye might well bear with [it].” For none of these blessings were they indebted to any channel but the apostle; him they had lightly esteemed whilst ready to honour the self-exalting men who had set up to teach on his foundation, crying up the twelve only to depreciate Paul. “For I reckon that I am in nothing come short of those surpassingly apostles; but if even ordinary in speech, yet not in knowledge, but in every way we manifested [it, or, were made manifest] in all things towards you.” They had all had the amplest experience of the apostle in everything; and as in power so in knowledge, they knew that he was behind none, unless it were in the rhetoric of the schools which the Greek mind overvalued.
But low-minded men misunderstand and despise that humility and love of which they are themselves incapable; and some there were at Corinth who cringed to position and means as they were insensible to the apostle’s grace in working with his own hands, or at least receiving no aid from rich Corinth. “Did I commit sin in humbling myself that ye might be exalted, because I gratuitously announced the gospel of God to you? Other churches I spoiled, receiving hire for service towards you. And when present with you and in want, I have not been a burden to any one (for my want the brethren on coming from Macedonia supplied); and in everything unburdensome to you I kept and will keep myself.” Ready to evangelise at all cost to himself everywhere, the apostle in some places felt free and happy to receive, not only from individuals but from assemblies, going on with God in grace and humility: when the world’s spirit prevailed, he was reserved and would receive nothing. The general principle remained intact: “the labourer is worthy of his hire;” “the Lord hath ordained that those that preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” But the apostle whilst laying down what is right could and did go beyond it in grace, not using it for himself but for Christ wherever His glory called for it. From the poor Macedonian brethren he received; from the wealthy Corinthians nothing. O what a contrast is this day in Christendom! Nor did he thus speak to draw out their liberality in future, for as he had kept himself, so would he in future. “There is Christ’s truth in me that this boasting shall not be stopped unto me in the quarters of Achaia.” Was he disappointed and bitter now? “Wherefore? Because I love you not? God knoweth.” It was indeed to deny his uniform life in Corinth and since.
His true motive he explains. “But what I do I will also do that I may cut off the occasion of those desiring an occasion that wherein they boast they may be found even as we” — a cheap boast where men have plenty and need no self-denying devotedness. “For such [are] false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.” The beginning of those evil ways was then at work which soon formed a clerical class, dispensing even with the claims to gift from Christ under the fabulous pretension to apostolic succession. Such men then opposed the apostle in person, as now they oppose his doctrine. Is this wonderful, when. as the apostle reminds us, “Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light? It is no great thing therefore if his servants also transform themselves as servants of righteousness,” though he solemnly adds, their “end shall be according to their works.”
Having turned aside to warn of pseudo-apostles, their high pretensions, and their low realities, the apostle comes back again, reluctantly as we see, to speak of himself, his “folly” as he calls it. In truth no task could be to him more repulsive, for he loved to speak only of Christ and the wondrous grace of God in Him. But what he so much disliked was a necessity; and at length the duty is faced of confronting their pretensions with his own reality. If in the previous chapter he shrank from pressing on the rich care for the poor saints, still more did he shrink now from self-vindication. But the Lord’s glory was concerned and the saints were endangered; and so he again takes up the disagreeable task.
“Again I say, let not one think me to be a fool; but if otherwise, even as a fool receive me, that I also may boast some little. What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord but as in folly, in this confidence of boasting. Since many boast according to flesh, I also will boast, For ye bear fools pleasantly, being wise. For ye bear if one bring you into bondage, if one devour you, if one receive, if one exalt himself, if one bout you on the face. As to dishonour I speak, as though we had been weak; but wherein any one is bold (I speak in folly) I also am bold.” (Vers. 16-21.)
It was impossible to treat the assailed ministry of Christ without speaking of himself and his service; and of these how could he speak to unfriendly ears without apparent boasting? So we have effort and apology and circuitous approach, all characteristic of the man, but the work done thoroughly and the word of God dealing with their consciences. Boasting was certainly not the way of the Lord; boasting in the Lord is what becomes every believer; and the apostle shrank perhaps more sensitively than any other man from boasting in aught else. But the false apostles were dishonouring the Lord and damaging the saints by putting forward their fleshly advantages; such as a fine personal presence, power of mind, play of fancy, readiness of speech, rhetorical artifices, independent fortune, family connection, social position, and the like. Therefore does he feel it necessary to put forward what God had wrought according to the ability He bestowed; and this not merely in positive spiritual power, but in every kind of labour and suffering for the Lord’s sake. It is humbling yet instructive to contrast the apostle’s pain at having thus to speak, and the too evident pleasure with which many a servant of Christ goes off into personal narratives, which seem to have no aim but to prove his own cleverness at the expense of poor Mr. This or Mr. That, the great sacrifices he has made for the truth, or the surpassing excellence of his line of things in the testimony of Christ. Indeed it is well in these days of fleshly pretension, which claims high and exclusive spirituality, if our ears escape the deliberate effort to lower such as are resolved by grace to exalt Christ only and to love all that are His, abominating therefore all party-work, whether in leaders or in followers.
Still, he is instinctively averse to everything which might look like self-exaltation, and which necessarily involved speaking of himself or of his work. He deprecates their thinking him a fool; but if they would not concede this to him, “Receive me even as a fool, that I too may boast some little.” They, being deceitful workers, sought their own glory; the apostle wrote only to deliver the saints from that which undermined the Lord and puffed up the flesh. Nevertheless it was not Christ; and not to be wholly occupied with Him was distasteful. “That which I speak, I speak not after the Lord, but as in folly, in this confidence of boasting.” He had ample matter and real substance; still it was not directly the Lord, and this tried him, however necessary it might be. This seems to be the true meaning; not at all that he was writing as an uninspired man, but that, by inspiration, he was writing what was painful to a heart wholly devoted to the Lord’s glory, but indignant at the trickery of these spurious ministers, and at the ready ear given to their insinuations by many of the saints. And certainly the Corinthians who permitted and enjoyed the lofty talk of those who detracted from Paul had no right to complain of the rapid glance at his work and sufferings, as well as power and office.
“Since many boast according to flesh, I also will boast, for ye bear with fools pleasantly, being wise.” The false teachers without scruple flattered the saints, as they flattered themselves. The irony of the apostle is the most cutting reproof of self-complacency. Where the folly really lay was neither doubtful, nor far to seek. He who has Christ for his wisdom can afford to be counted, and to count himself, a fool; it is really the truest wisdom, which they wholly miss, who exalt a favourite teacher into the place of Christ, and claim the character of obedience for such abject and perilous folly. Among the Jews, to say “there is no God” was to be a fool, in the worst sense of the word; among Christians, to set the servant practically above the Master, to give the servant the homage due only to Him, is real folly, and commonly as at Corinth it is the acceptance of Satan’s ministers to the disparagement of those who are truly serving Christ.
Nor can any sight be more remarkable than the way in which flesh displays itself in these circumstances. The same saints, who were restive under the authority of a true apostle, were all submission to those who were false. “For ye bear if one bring you into bondage, if one devour you, if one capture, if one exalt himself, if one beat you on the face.” Such was the degradation into which many at Corinth had fallen, hugging the chains which they saw not; for flesh is blind as well as foolish, and loves its own things, not those of Jesus Christ. It likes a director of faith and duty — not conscience in God’s presence, subject to the word. It submits to bondage to man, if it be allowed sometimes licence. It never really knows and enjoys liberty in the Spirit. It ignores and endures wrongs, through indulgence to its favourites, to the last degree of injury and insult, as if all this were a high degree of religious merit, instead of the lack of faith and power which must bow down to a human priest or pontiff. The history of Christendom is but the filling up of the sketch the apostle has drawn of what Satan had wrought to a certain extent at Corinth.
Now at length the apostle comes once again, however slowly, to himself and his ministry. “As to dishonour I speak as though we had been weak, but, wherein any one is bold (I speak in folly), I also am bold.” It was the apostle’s glory to be weak that the power of Christ might rest upon him. This his adversaries turned to his reproach, and he bowed to it; he was far from affecting that high spirit which imposes on the vulgar used to it in the world, and is ever of price to the fleshly mind. But he apologises for speaking folly, and he adds, “wherein any one is bold, I also am bold.” He was pained and ashamed to allude to his own things, however true and blessed; whilst they blazoned with the utmost vanity their advantages, however petty or really despicable in comparison.
The fleshly pretension of those who opposed the apostle prided itself on its Jewish extraction, as clericalism and ecclesiastical corruptions are apt to do virtually if not naturally as here. Knowing that the apostle turned every eye to Christ in heaven as dead and risen, they seem to have forgotten how easily he could dispose of such claims to superiority. “Are they Hebrews? I too. Are they Israelites? I too. Are they Abraham’s seed? I too.” (Ver. 22.) It is a climax from the external designation of the chosen nation, through the internal name (clearly enough distinguished in such scriptures as 1 Sam. 13:3-7, 19, 20; 1 Sam. 14:21-24), to the name in virtue of which they inherited the promises; yet each appropriated to himself with a curtness very galling to his vain-glorious rivals. It was low ground in comparison of Christ, and the apostle treating it with scant respect turns to a higher claim.
“Are they ministers of Christ? (Beside myself I speak) I above measure;117 in labours very abundantly, in prisons very abundantly,118 in stripes exceedingly, in deaths often. From Jews five times I received forty [stripes] save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; by wayfarings often, by dangers of rivers, by dangers of robbers, by dangers from countrymen, by dangers from Gentiles, by dangers in town, by dangers in desert, by dangers at sea, by dangers among false brethren, by119 toil and trouble; in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Apart from things without [or, besides], my pressing care120 day by day, the concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I burn not? If I must boast, I will boast in the matters of my infirmity. The God121 and Father of the Lord Jesus, he that is blessed for ever, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the ethnarch [or, prefect] of Aretas the king garrisoned the Damascenes’ city122 to seize me; and through a window I was let down in a basket by the wall and escaped his hands.” (Vers. 23-33.)
It is hardly exposition that is needed here, but thanksgiving for the grace bestowed of God on a man of like passions with ourselves, when the eye surveys such a roll of suffering labour for Christ, when the heart seeks to realise what it actually means so to be poured out as a libation, as he says to Philippi, where he could rejoice and rejoice in common with all the saints, not as here where the folly of the Corinthians wrung out of an outraged heart the reluctant tale, so profitable for us and all, which we should never otherwise have had recounted. We may well be humbled as we read that which puts our lukewarmness to shame.
Nevertheless, though the summary is as brief as it is plain in the main, the wounded modesty of the apostle, forced to withdraw the veil from a life of unequalled suffering, enters on the task with apologetic words which let out the pain it cost him to speak of his own things. He puts the question as to his adversaries, “Are they ministers of Christ?” and answers, not now as a fool (
ἄφρων) but as raving, “I above measure.” The, commentators, ancient and modern, will have it to be a comparison. This is the very thing be seems studiously to avoid by the use of the preposition used adverbially and by other means afterwards. It is impossible to conceive an answer more spiritually wise and conclusive. For he does not even notice here the extraordinary power which the Lord had given him in the Spirit to deal with disease, death, or demons; nor yet the immense range and success of his work in the gospel; but he turns from his very abundant labours to the excess of stripes which had befallen him, his very abundant imprisonments, and his frequent exposures to death. Those who sought to undermine him might boast of their learning or their originality, their logic or their imagination, their depth of thought or their piquancy of illustration. They might appeal to their adherents numerous or intelligent, to their high favour with women, to their popularity with men; for they sought above all to draw away the disciples after them. What did they care for the poor and despised? What for the interests of Christ and the church?
The phraseology of the apostle (as in
ὑπὲρ ἐγώ, and also the sense of
παρεκτός) may be now and then difficult to seize or convey from the brevity and abruptness of one who could not bear to dwell on such a theme in view of unworthy adversaries who stood high in the esteem of many a saint. But he assuredly does not mean that any service here was more than the ministry of Christ, for this to him was the highest glory; and the Lord Himself had said that whosoever would be great among them should be their minister, and whosoever would be first should be slave of all. Nor would he merely intimate that he was more devoted and laborious than his detractors, as some have supposed. He was really comparing himself with none; but apologising for so speaking as contrary to a sound mind, he could not but own himself Christ’s minister beyond measure. No doubt the comparative occurs both with “labours” and with “prisons,” and even Bengel thought the false apostles experienced these like Paul, but less. But it was overlooked that the Greek tongue often uses the comparative without any object of comparison in a merely intensitive sense,123 where we should employ the positive qualified by “very,” “rather” or the like, meaning (if we attempted to fill up the ellipsis) “more than usual,” or “ordinary,” etc.; and the context confirms this as well as the moral bearing. For
πλέον would have been more natural to express comparative superiority, while
πολλάκις just afterwards oppose the idea. We see in 2 Corinthians 10:12 what the apostle felt of comparing, which was their way, not his who was altogether above a habit so far beneath Christ or the Christian.
The apostle next glances at particulars thus far in his course, to which others had compelled him who can have little anticipated such an answer to their vain-glory. He puts them to shame with (not miracles but) sufferings. “From Jews five times I received forty [stripes] save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and day I have been in the deep.” This last danger was of course, like the three shipwrecks, previous to that which is so graphically described in Acts 27, though Grotius by a singular oversight speaks of it as if included. The one stoning at Lystra is related in Acts 14. Paley notices the remarkable accuracy of the inspired historian as compared with the apostle’s statement. There is the nearest approach to a seeming contradiction without giving the least real ground for it. The same chapter which gives the case of stoning mentions at the beginning that an assault was made on Paul and Barnabas at Iconium, “to use them despitefully and to stone them; but they were ware of it and fled unto Lystra and Derbe.” “Now had the assault been completed; had the history related that a stone was thrown, as it relates that preparations were made by Jews and Gentiles to stone Paul and his companions; or even had the account of this transaction stopped, without going on to inform us that Paul and his companions were aware of their danger and fled, a contradiction between the history and the apostle would have ceased. Truth is necessarily consistent; but it is scarcely possible that independent accounts, not having truth to guide them, should thus advance to the very brink of contradiction without falling into it.” (Horae Paulinae. Works, v. 120, 121, ed. vii.) In the Acts we have but one of the three beatings with rods, and not one of the five scourgings by Jews.
And what a picture of ceaseless, unselfish, suffering toils is despatched in the next few words, before which the great deeds of earth’s heroes grow pale with ineffectual light, attended as they were with heavy blows on others and clever schemes to screen themselves! “By wayfarings often, by dangers of rivers, by dangers of robbers, by dangers from countrymen, by dangers from Gentiles, by dangers in towns, by dangers in desert, by dangers at sea, by dangers among false brethren, by toil and trouble; in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” Yet this is the man who deprecates it as “folly” to speak of himself, who practised as he exhorted “but one thing!” “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Forget his failures, his sins, he did not; it is good and wholesome both for self-judgment and as a witness of sovereign grace and faithfulness on God’s part. But his progress, his trials, his sufferings, others only by their folly constrained him to recall, in meekness setting right those who opposed, if God per. adventure might sometime give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.
Yet it is not only the endurance of cruel usage from time to time from open enemies that tests the heart; it is shown out yet more by the unwearied and constant going out, no matter what the labour and the danger, from country to country among strangers whom the Jews could readily influence when they themselves took fire at the gospel, added to the manifold trials of the way. “in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from countrymen, in perils from heathen, in perils in town, in perils in desert, in perils at sea, in perils among false brethren; in toil and trouble, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” How poor the lengthy tales of the most devoted labourers in ancient or modern times compared with these living strokes from the heart of the great apostle!
Nor was it by any means an exhaustive account. Apart from the things besides” (
παρεκτός, possibly without,” as in the Vulgate, Calvin, Beza, Authorised Version, etc.), “the pressure on me day by day, the concern for all the churches.” There is little doubt that an early confusion crept into the text, and that the true word here is one signifying “urgent attention,” as in Acts 24:12 it is rather one signifying “faction” or “tumultuous concourse,” though the more ancient copies support the former word (
ἐπισύσταις) in both; and they are followed in this by Lachmann, Tischendorf, Alford, and Tregelles. Mr. T. S. Green is one of those who fall into the opposite extreme of reading the latter word in both. It is one of the few instances where Scholz has in my opinion shown better judgment, reading “concourse” (
ἐπισύσατσιν) in Acts and “pressure of attention” (
ἐπίστασις) in the passage before us. Anxiety for all the assemblies is the appended explanation of that care day by day which pressed on the apostle. And of this he gives us a sample. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I [emphatic] burn not?” If they were sorely troubled by scrupulosity, he could and did enter into their difficulties; if any one was stumbled by the unworthy bearing of others, his soul was on fire, filled with love for Christ and the saints, and abhorring selfishness and party with thorough hatred.
Was this self-praise? “If it is needful to boast, I will boast of the matters of my infirmity. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is blessed for ever, knoweth that I lie not. At Damascus the prefect of Aretas the king garrisoned the Damascenes’ city to seize me; and through a window in a basket was I let down by [or through] the wall, and escaped their hands.” No doubt, it was a remarkable escape at the beginning of his ministry; but it was just the last thing one who sought his own glory would have repeated and recorded for ever. No angelic visitors opened the bars and bolts of massive doors, nor blinded the eyes of the garrison: the apostle was let down in a basket through a window in the city wall. Truly he gloried, not in the great deeds or sayings of his ministry, but in his weakness and the Lord’s grace. It is the more remarkable from the way in which he proceeds immediately after to speak of his being caught up to the third heaven.
93 The common T.R. reading
ὁ ἐξ ὑμ. is largely supported, but not by the best MSS, etc., and may be taken as “zeal on your part.”
94 T.R., with several uncials and most cursives, etc., adds
τῆς καυχήσεως “of boasting.”
προεπηγ. has much the best support, not as in T. R.
ὡς the best MSS, not
ὥσπερ as T.R. with a few cursives.
97 T. R. has the present, “purposeth,” with most, but the oldest read the perfect.
98 It is the dative which admits of all these shades, of which it is not easy to decide which is best.
99 The Latins and some of the Greeks took this as an exhortation, not as a question. Others understand it indicatively.
100 Sundry copies as Dp.m. Ep.m. F.G., etc., add
ἐφ᾽ ἑ. B. L., etc.,
ἀφ᾽ ἑ. almost all others with Greek fathers. Lachmann originally inclined to the first, afterwards to the last.
102 Most cursives with a few uncials support
Χριστοῦ, “of Christ,” as in the Text. Rec.
τε even is omitted by B F G, etc., as
καί is by the best MS and most versions. A few also read, “I shall boast.”
ἡμῖν “to us” Text. Rec., is not in the oldest copies.
105 B with the Latin copies give “they say,” and so Lachmann, though Tischendorf says that he omits it.
106 The critics strangely differ, as do the copies, in the last phrase, not only as to form, but as to arrangement. The renderings proposed singularly differ also.
107 The singular is in D F G, and in several Latin copies.
108 Lachmann strangely follows the Vatican (B), etc., in omitting the first and objective negative, which necessitates an interrogative force “For do we overstretch,” etc.
109 Steph. with the most and best,
ἠνείχ. but, rightly
μικρόν τι (for
τι Steph.) and
ἀφοσύνης (though wrongly
οὕτω is added by the Text. Rec. with many witnesses, but not B D F G P, etc.;
καὶ τῆς ἁγνότητος added by m B F G, etc, and so Lachmann and Alford.
φανερώσαντες p.m. B Fgr G, etc.
φανερωθέντες corr. Dcorr. E H L P, etc.
φανερωθείς Dp.m. etc.
σφραγί. the error of a few cursives with Steph.; Elz. has rightly
θαῦμα B D F G P R, etc. for
θαυμαστόν of Text. Rec. supported by most later copies.
117 Lachmann gives
ὑπερεγώ: it is hard to say why.
118 Lachmann and Treg. follow B D E, etc.
φυλ. περ. ἐν
πλ. ὑπ.; Tisch. prefers p.m. Fgr. G, etc.
πλ. περ. ἐν
119 Text. Rec. adds
ἐν with the later uncials, cursives, Vulg., etc.; but p.m. B D E F G and Gothic do not read the preposition.
ἐπίστασις B E F G, several cursives, etc.;
ἐπισύστασις Text. Rec. supported by most of the later uncials and cursives, apparently also by the Greek and Latin expositors. The more ancient copies give
μοι instead of the vulgar
121 Verse 31 has been strangely tampered with by copyists. Thus the Clermont and St. Germain’s (now St. Pet.) MSS. to
ὁ θεὸς add
Ἰσραήλ. Again they and two other uncials with very many cursives add
τ. κυρίου, as still more add
122 The more ancient copies read
π. Δαμ. rather than
Δαμ. π. and have no
θέλων as in Text. Rec.
123 Winer (Gr. N.T. Gr. iii. § 35, Moulton’s ed.) seems to deny this, so far as the N.T. is concerned; but hardy assertion is no proof. I do not say that it is ever used for the positive; nor would the superlative suit, but just what is found. Were there only the two comparatives employed, it would be strange to depart from the literal meaning “more abundantly.” But as the context stands before and after, and taking account of the moral considerations, as well as the delicate dignity of the apostle, I incline to the version given as. preferable.