Why Christ Died
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (vv. 14-21)
In this section of the epistle Paul brings before us in a very clear, definite way, the supreme reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see not merely One who loved God His Father and loved the truth, and was therefore willing to die as a martyr for truth, but we see One who took His place as a vicarious sacrifice, suffering instead of others, bearing the judgment that sinners deserved in order that they might be delivered from that judgment, and that they might be brought into a new creation, a new relationship with God altogether, and then might go forth with hearts aflame with love for Christ to carry the story of His grace to all men everywhere. This is the way that Christianity has been propagated down through the centuries. Islam was propagated by the sword. Its advocates said, “Accept the religion of Mohammed or die.” Other systems have been advanced by appeal to selfish interests. But Christianity has been propagated down through all the centuries in the power of the Holy Spirit, through the setting forth of the death, the burial, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, calling upon men through Christ to be reconciled to God, and what marvels this gospel has wrought!
The apostle says, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” Spurred on by his own sense of that mighty, all-conquering love, he went out into a world of sinners to win men for Christ, “because,” he tells us, “we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.” That is, mankind as a whole was under sentence of death, that came in with the fall of the first man. Adam stood there before God as our federal head. He was the head of the old creation, and that old creation was on trial in Adam. God said to him, “Thou shaft not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof [dying thou shalt die]” (Gen. 2:17). Adam deliberately disobeyed this command of God, and he fell under sentence of death, and of course took the entire human race down with him, for all were represented in him as he stood before God. And so all mankind now are in the place of death.
I have sometimes tried to illustrate it like this. Think of the top of this reading desk as representing paradise, that place in which God put man when He first created him. This hymn book which I hold erect on the desk may speak to you of Adam as the head of the race. There our first father stood in the position of responsibility before God, a sinless man in Eden. Had he been obedient, he would never have come under the sentence of death, but through disobedience he fell under that sentence. Sinning against God he went down into the place of death; just as I drop this book from the top of the reading desk to the platform, you may think of Adam falling from that place of sinlessness, where he was free of all condemnation, down into the place of death because of sin. And mark, every person who has ever come into the world since, has come into the world down there in the place of death. Not one has come into the world up here on this plane of sinlessness. Therefore, all are dead, as God looks at men, dead in trespasses and sin. But now think of our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes into the world as the sinless One; He stands not only on the plane where Adam was, the plane of innocence, but He is absolutely holy. But He has come to save men. He cannot find any men on this plane of sinlessness; He does not find men enjoying life and fellowship with God. Where does He have to go to find them? He goes down into the place of death where man is. “And that he died for all.” Because men were dead He went down into death, and now He brings believers up with Him in resurrection life. To put them here on the same plane where Adam was before he fell? Oh, no, to lift them infinitely higher, that they may be made members of a new creation of which He is the exalted Head in heaven: “He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
“If [Christ] died for all, then were all dead.” No man has title to life in himself, but Christ died for all “that they which live,” those who have put their trust in Him, those to whom He has spoken life, now possessors of eternal life through faith, “should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” Why did Christ die? Not only that we should be delivered from death and judgment, but that we should be brought up from our state of death into newness of life. Now our redeemed lives should be devoted to Him that we should live henceforth to the glory of God alone. And so we now look out upon the world through altogether different eyes from those we used when we belonged to it. When men of the world, we made much of the flesh and all that was linked with it. We thought of men as great, or as rich, or as powerful, talented or able, as superior one to another. Some men we despised because they were poor and ignorant and degraded, with little intelligence, and less talented, but now all that is changed. “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh.” We look out now upon this world, not thinking of the different distinctions between man and man, but as seeing a world of sinners for whom Christ died, and we realize that all men, whether rich or poor, foolish or wise, whether barbarian or civilized, whether morons or highly talented, are dear to the heart of God, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). So, in touch with Christ Himself, we are prepared to suffer, to give, to deny ourselves, we are prepared to die, if need be, in order to bring others to a saving knowledge of this redemption which means so much to us.
“Yea,” the apostle continues, “though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.” He is not saying that he personally ever did know Christ after the flesh, but uses the “we” here in order to take in others with him who were actually acquainted with our Lord when here on earth. He is telling us that it is not the incarnate Christ with whom we are linked, it is the resurrected Christ. Incarnation apart from His death would never have saved one poor sinner. We do not think of Him merely as the promised Messiah of Israel, as a great prophet sent of God, as the greatest of all ethical and spiritual teachers, but look far beyond the cross and the grave into the glory, and see Him there exalted at God’s right hand, a Prince and a Savior, and we go to men in His name to proclaim remission of sins, knowing that when they trust Him, when they believe the message, “If any man be in Christ, [it] is…new creation.” He, the risen, exalted Christ, has now become the Head of an altogether new creation. Who belong to that new creation? All who, though once in death because of sin, have now been quickened into newness of life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, we enter that new creation by being born again.
Does any one say, “How may I know definitely whether I belong to that new creation or not?” Listen to what our Lord Himself says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). I am very fond of the Roman Catholic translation of that verse, the translation that you will find in the Rheims-Douay Version of the Bible. There you read, “Amen, amen, I say unto you, He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and comes not into judgment; but is passed out of death into life.” Is not that a wonderful translation? Do you sense the meaning of it? The Word of God speaks with that double affirmation which is equivalent to the divine oath: “Amen, amen, truly, truly, I say unto you, if you hear My word, and you believe Him that sent Me, you have eternal life, and shall not come into judgment; but you are passed out of death into life.” That is, if you receive the gospel message in your heart, you have everlasting life. It is not something you have to work for, or pray for, it is something that God gives instantaneously when you put your trust in the One who is revealed in the gospel. You will never come into judgment, but already God sees you as having passed out of that condition of death into life, and thus linked with Christ as the Head of the new creation.
“If any man be in Christ, [it] is…new creation.” And in this new creation “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” We are finished with our old state and condition. The old creation fell in Adam; the new creation stands in Christ; and once in Him we are in Him forever. The moment you put your trust in Him God links you up with Him. If Christ fails, the new creation will go down, as the old one did when its head fell. But Christ will never fail. Christ is already seated on the throne of God in heaven, and we are linked with Him, and there in this new creation “all things are of God.” Do not try to read into this what some New Thought advocates seek to read into it. They will take a statement like this and will tell us it means that there is nothing evil in the universe, and so we must not even think of Satan as evil. Satan, they tell us, is only the personification of our wrong thoughts, but we know from the Word of God that our “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). There is a great deal of evil in this universe, but it all belongs to the old creation. The apostle is speaking of the new creation, and it is in the new creation that “all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.” This reconciliation is even more than justification. When we come to Christ, all our sins are forgiven; more than that, we are justified from all things. God looks upon us as though we had never sinned at all. Justification is the sentence of the judge in favor of the prisoner, it is God saying, “I declare this man not guilty,” No wonder the apostle tells us, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Reconciliation goes a step farther; it is not only that our sins are forgiven and that divine justice has nothing against us, but it is that He has received us as His own to His loving heart, and we are reconciled to God and we joy in Him.
In our unconverted state we would not have thought such a thing possible. We were happy only when we could get God out of our minds, but now we find our joy in the Lord. It was not the life merely of Jesus that reconciled us, but we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. God in His love and grace had come out to seek us in the Person of the Lord Jesus, and actually in Christ went to the cross and settled the sin question for us. The Lord Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us, and that broke down all the enmity and won our hearts to Him. Henceforth we are reconciled to the God from whom at one time we turned away.
Now He has given to us a ministry, “the ministry of reconciliation.” This ministry of reconciliation is God’s call to lost men everywhere to come to Him with all their sins, with all their griefs, with all their burdens, and be reconciled to Him. Mark, it is not that God has to be reconciled to us.
God never had one hard thought toward me. Sinner, He has never had one hard thought toward you. You have had hard thoughts toward Him, and because of that you have taken it for granted that of course God felt the same toward you, but He loves you in spite of all your sin and folly and iniquity. God’s heart goes out toward you in love. Jesus did not die in order to enable God to love sinners, but He died
because God loves sinners. “God so loved…that he gave.” He so loved a world of sinners “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And so it is not God who needs to be reconciled to us, but we as sinners need reconciliation to Him. If you have never yet turned to Him, you need to go to Him, and when you realize something of His grace toward you, you will be reconciled to Him. It is a wonderful thing when all enmity disappears and you can joy in the Lord and rejoice in the God of your salvation. This is reconciliation.
But in the next verses the apostle unfolds this ministry of reconciliation. He says, “And hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; [namely], that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” The Lord Jesus Christ was no ordinary man; He was not simply the best of men; but He was God manifest in flesh. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself”; that is, God in Christ was going out after men to try to win them back. They had gone away from Him, trampling on His goodness, spurning His love, actually assailing His righteousness, but here God in Christ goes out after them, pleads with them to return to God, offers to forgive them, to put away all their sins and make them His own. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Christ did not come to charge man’s sins against him but to pay man’s debt. We read of that poor woman in the eighth chapter of John’s gospel and get such a conception of the cruelty and hardness of man’s heart. She had fallen into a heinous sin, and they dragged her into the temple where the people were gathered, and pointed the finger of scorn at her as she stood there with downcast eyes, trembling, overwhelmed with shame. They told the story of her sin and degradation, but what did Jesus do? He stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. Why did He do that? In Jeremiah it is written, “They that depart from me shall be written on the earth” (Jer. 17:13). They were saying of this woman, “What a sinner she is, how vile, how guilty!” but Jesus, by His very act, is saying, “You are all guilty; you are all to be written in the earth. From dust you came, and to dust you go because of sin,” and then lifting Himself up He said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7), and then stooped to the dust again. I think that twice going down to the dust suggested that He Himself was about to descend into the place of death to bring poor sinners up to this sphere of life, but as He wrote again upon the dust they turned and went away, from the eldest even until the least. The oldest rascal there, with all his piety, knew he had sins enough to sink his soul to the depths of hell, and the next, until the youngest was gone, and the woman was left alone with Jesus, and of course the multitude standing around. And when Jesus looked up He said, “Hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:10). She said, “No man, Lord” (v. 11). By that term,
Lord, she expressed her faith in Him, for “no man can [call] Jesus…Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3). And He said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).
“Not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The Son of Man came not to condemn the world but to save the world. What! you say, does He not condemn a sin like that? Does He make light of uncleanness and unchastity and licentiousness? No, but for all that sin He was going to the cross. The condemnation was to fall on Him, and because He was to bear that poor woman’s sin, when she trusted in Him, He could send her away uncondemned. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” He has entrusted the administration of the gospel message to us; and Paul says, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” We go to men on God’s behalf, “as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” How can we be reconciled to God? We may be ashamed of our sins, we may grieve over our past, but will not sin ever remain, will it not ever rise up between our souls and God in spite of our deepest repentance? No, because in the cross that question has been fully met to the divine satisfaction, God has made Christ to be sin for us. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” And upon the cross Christ took the sinner’s place, He was treated as though guilty of all the sin and iniquity and unrighteousness of the ages. He was there as the great Sin Offering.
On Him almighty vengeance fell,
That would have sunk a world to hell;
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding-Place.
And because He, the sinless One, has died in the place of sinners, we, the sinful, may enter into life, may become the righteousness of God in Him.
This last verse of our chapter epitomizes the deepest meaning of the cross. It shows the One who was sinless inwardly and outwardly, enduring the wrath of God which we deserved. Our sins put Him on the cross. But, having settled the sin-question to the divine satisfaction, He has been raised from the dead and seated as the glorified Man at God’s right hand. There on the throne He is our righteousness. The Father sees every believer in Him, free from all condemnation, made the display of the righteousness of God in Him. He Himself is our righteousness. We are complete in Him. God is satisfied and our consciences are at peace. What a salvation is this!
The Ideal Minister, Of Christ
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (vv. 1-10)
This is the standard that the Spirit of God sets up for every servant of Christ, and is that at which every true “minister of God” should aim. You will notice the apostle speaks of such as fellow workers with the rest of His people. “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” The New Testament minister of Christ, the scriptural pastor, evangelist, or teacher, is not one who lords it over the consciences of God’s people, but he is a fellow worker with them. The words, “with him,” which may suggest workers together
with God, are not really found in the original. The apostle is not exactly saying, “We are fellow workers with God,” for we are under God as our Master, but we who are members of the church, and those of us who have particular responsibility, are fellow workers, we are laborers together for the blessing of the whole body of Christ and for the evangelization of a lost world. Addressing this church, the apostle says, “We…beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” Christians have been richly blessed; God has lavished His goodness upon us. What response are we making to the love of His heart? To receive His great goodness, to glory in salvation by grace, and yet to live carnal, worldly lives is indeed to “receive…the grace of God in vain.” Let there be on our part a constant response of loving devotion to Him who has so graciously accepted us in the Beloved.
“For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation.” The apostle quotes this passage from the Old Testament to remind us how God has taken us up when poor sinners and has made us His own. But I cannot pass the last part of this quotation without reminding any who are out of Christ that this message of salvation is still going out to a lost world and to all men everywhere. God is saying, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” If you are still in your sins, still out of Christ, there is no reason why you should go on even for one more day, for one hour, even for one minute, refusing the salvation God is offering, or fearing to appropriate it lest it might not yet be God’s time to save. It is ever God’s time: “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The moment you are ready to turn to God as a poor, lost, needy sinner, that moment He is ready to receive and to save and to grant you His forgiveness and to make you His child. This verse really comes in parenthetically. In the verses that follow the apostle sets forth the ideal minister of Christ.
In the first place, he must be careful of his own personal behavior that he may not stumble another. “Giving no offence in any thing.” By the term
offence he does not mean hurting people’s feelings. It is quite impossible for any servant of Christ to behave himself so as never to hurt the feelings of someone. It is impossible to so speak, to so act that one can forever be free from hurting people’s feelings. Some people carry their feelings on their sleeves all the time. If you do not shake hands with them, you probably intended to slight them. If you do, you hurt them, forgetting they have rheumatism. If you stop to speak with them, you are interrupting them. If you do not, you are “high-hatting” them. If you write them a letter, they are sure you want to get their money. If you do not, you are neglecting them. If you visit them, you are bothering them. If you do not, it shows you have no interest in the flock. It is impossible to please everyone, but when the apostle says, “Giving no offence,” he means so behaving yourself that no one can point to you and say, “That man’s ways are such that I lose confidence in the salvation that he professes.” The minister of Christ must first of all be a regenerated man, and then a man walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, “giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that the ministry be not blamed. But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience.” How much patience the minister of Christ needs!
The apostle then gives us three series of nines. First, he gives us in nine different expressions the training of the minister of Christ. He is to manifest much patience in
affliction. He is not to expect to be above affliction; it is the common lot of God’s people in this scene. And the minister of Christ must share with the rest in
necessity. He is not to expect to live in luxury while others are often distressed. I have been thankful for experiences that God has given me in difficult pioneer days in Christian work. They enable me to enter into the feelings of others who are in deep need. I have often known what it was to pull up my belt one notch for breakfast, and another for lunch, and another for supper. The longest time I went without food and kept on preaching, was three days and three nights, and yet by the grace of God I was enabled to preach three times a day during those three days and nights. I happened to be in a place where I had no money, and God’s people thought I lived by faith and they let me do it, but nothing came in for food. I have often thanked God for those days, for I have found out how God could sustain a man altogether without food. I shall never forget when on the morning of the fourth day I thought I would stay in bed for breakfast, and then I saw a letter slipped under my door. I opened it and found these words, “Enclosed is an expression of Christian fellowship,” and there was a ten-dollar bill. I went out and enjoyed the best breakfast that I ever remember having in my life. Hunger whets the appetite. I fancy there are very few who have trod the path of faith who have not known these things.
And then the Christian minister is to approve himself in
distresses, and if he cannot find anything otherwise to distress him, he will always find someone to help him along. In Paul’s day ministers had to pass through what few of us are called upon to pass through these days. “In
fastings. “Here you have the training of the minister. He is to learn his lessons in the school of affliction that he may able to enter into and sympathize with the people of God in their afflictions.
And then in verses 6-7
we read of nine characteristics that should mark him out as a man of God. He is to be characterized by
pureness. The minister of Christ is to be above anything like uncleanness of life or thought, he is to be marked by that purity that characterized the Lord Jesus Christ. And then “by
It is his responsibility to become acquainted with the things of God and with other branches of useful knowledge that may help him to minister to people in their various states of heart and mind, for he should be Christ’s servant to the fullest possible extent. Then he must be marked “by
not readily provoked. In fact, the apostle tells us that where love controls the heart, one is not easily provoked. Nothing so shows a man out of fellowship with God as a bad temper. A bad-tempered minister will never be a real testimony for Christ. Then, “by
And how one fails in this, how little he rises to this ideal! Men and women long to find those who have a tender, kindly interest in them. And this should characterize the pastor.
But next we read, “by the
He is to be a man not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit but filled with the Spirit of God, living in the power of the Spirit, and so ministering by the Spirit. I have prayed hundreds of times, and I still pray, “God keep me from ever being able to preach except in the power of the Holy Spirit of God.” I would rather be smitten dumb than mock God and mock the people to whom I speak, by simply standing up to give them my own vain thoughts instead of the mind of God in the energy of His Spirit. And then again we read, “By
love unfeigned. “A love that is genuine, not put on, that is not pretended but is real, because implanted in the heart by the Spirit of God. “By the
word of truth.”
The minister of Christ must know his Bible, and preach the Bible by the power of God, which only comes as one draws from Him in secret before appearing in public. “By the
armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” That is, right living, right doing.
And then in closing this description of the ideal minister we have in verses 8-10, nine paradoxes which are all to be seen in the man of God. “By
honour and dishonour. “ Some may approve and some may disapprove, but he is to keep the even tenor of his way. “By
evil report and good report.”
Some may say wicked, unkind things about him, but he is not to retaliate. Others may over-praise him, but he is not to be lifted up but to go on in dependence on the Lord. “As
deceivers, and yet true. “Men may claim that he knows not whereof he speaks, but he is to give his message knowing it to be the very Word of God. “As
unknown, and yet well known.” How little the minister of Christ counts for in the great world outside, and yet how much he may mean to the people of God. I remember well how stirred I was when our late beloved brother, Dr. E. A. Torrey, passed away. I was in New York and I picked up a newspaper, and there saw a little two-inch item saying that Dr. R. A. Torrey had died, and in the same paper there was a column-and-a-half telling of the death of a movie actor on the same date. But when I picked up a Christian journal a little later, I found column after column telling of Dr. Torrey, and there was no mention of the actor! It makes all the difference which crowd you belong to. “As
dying, and, behold, we live.”
The apostle says, “I die daily,” and then again, “We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake” (4:11). And then, “As
chastened, and not killed”—as patiently enduring divine discipline and yet not killed. “As
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
How can a man be sorrowful and always be rejoicing? No man can look around upon a world like this without sorrow if he possesses the Spirit of Christ. Yet we are made to rejoice as we think of the goodness of the Lord. “As
poor, yet making many rich.”
I have heard of very few servants of Christ possessed of much of this world’s wealth. They go through life giving not only their testimony but of their means to bless and help others, and die at last leaving little behind them, and yet if they have been the means of bringing many souls to Christ and building up His people in the truth, what a privilege that is, for they have been making many rich. “As
having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
The minister of Christ surrenders in a large measure his right to a place in this world, to the honor of this world, to the wealth of this world. But though surrendering it all, though it seems he may be literally throwing away his life, in Christ he has everything. This is the ideal minister of Christ. To what extent do we who are engaged in the work of the Lord measure up to it? Let us test ourselves by these verses, and seek by grace to manifest those things that the Holy Spirit here puts before us. Then our hearers will indeed realize that we have been with Jesus and learned of Him!
Separation From Evil
2 Corinthians 6:11-18
O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (vv. 11-18)
All down through the ages since God has been working redemptively in delivering men from sin, from its guilt and its power, Satan has been seeking in every possible way to thwart that work, and although Calvary has demonstrated the fact that he is already a defeated adversary, yet he still persists in trying to injure by all means in his power everything that is of God. You will find as you read both Testaments, that in every instance when God begins a new testimony Satan seeks to destroy it by persecution. He stirs up the hearts of those who hate God and hate His Word to work injury upon those who love Him and love the Scriptures. This was particularly true in the beginning of the history of the church of God. Persecution broke out first in Jerusalem, and then spread through the world, finally centering itself in Rome, and for two hundred awful years the Devil did everything possible to destroy the church of God by stirring up the hatred of men and women throughout the entire Roman empire, so that literally hundreds of thousands of Christian men, women, and children were martyred for Christ’s sake. But down through the ages it has been demonstrated, as Augustine said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Satan always finds that persecution is utterly unable to destroy the testimony of God.
And then the enemy of souls works in another way. He persecutes, he destroys, he puts God’s people to death, gives them to realize the bitter enmity of the world, and when that will not keep people from coming to Christ, nor keep the church from witnessing for Christ, he turns the tables, and seeks to become in some sense the patron of Christianity. He endeavors to render the testimony of the church innocuous by amalgamation with the world. It is in this way that Israel fell. As long as Israel remained a separated people they had a testimony for God in the world, but when they followed after the idolatry of the nations, when they made marriages with the heathen, they lost their testimony, and so God set them to one side. They were of no further use as a witness in the world. It has been the same with the church throughout the centuries.
As long as the church walked in holy separation from the world it has been a power for God, sinners have been convicted, and anxious ones have been saved. Whole nations have been stirred by a separated, devoted, godly people, but just as soon as the church has listened to the suggestions of the enemy, coming now in the guise of a friend, and has given her fair hand to the world, has amalgamated with the world, at once her testimony has been annulled, she has ceased to be of any real account for God in this scene. In the Word of God we find the importance of separation from evil stressed. If we would really count for the Lord we need to remember this, for the professing church all about us has become contaminated to a great extent by the spirit of the world. How often we find ourselves going after the ways of the world, and very often we dress and behave just like the world, and indulge in the same things that the world indulges in, and so lose our power with souls.
The story is told of a young woman, brought up in a very careful Christian home, who when she went away to college was persuaded by some nominal Christians that if she would have any influence with her fellow students she would have to let down the bars a little bit. So at last she was persuaded to learn to dance, and she later went to the college prom. There on the floor she was dancing with a young man, and as she danced she said to herself, “I am doing this in order to let people see that I am not narrow, to let folk see that I can meet them on their own ground, and I must remember to bear witness for Christ here.” And so as the dance went on she tried to say a little word, but her partner did not know what it was all about. As he led her back to a seat she said, “What I am anxious to know is, are you a Christian?”
He looked at her and said, “Good gracious, no. You are not, are you?”
“Oh, yes,” she said; “I am.”
“Well, what on earth are you doing here, then?”
She realized at once that even the world has a high standard for a Christian. The world expects a Christian to walk in separation from it. It will do what it can to get the Christian to lower his standard, but always despises him when he does lower it.
I was having meetings in a church in San Jose, California, some years ago. One night the leader announced that a certain young lady would sing a solo. She was very beautiful, and had a carefully-trained, well-modulated voice, and sang very nicely. The title of the song was, “Jesus Satisfies.” I was quite moved by it myself, and hoped others were. At the close of the meeting I asked any anxious ones to meet me at the front or to remain in their seats. I noticed a young woman sitting by herself, and so I went down to speak with her. I said, ‘Are you anxious about your soul?”
She looked at me and said, “Well, yes and no. I was anxious; I came to this meeting with the thought that I would like to become a Christian, but if ever I become a Christian I want to be a different one from Miss So-and-So,” and she gave the name of the young lady who had sung the solo.
“Oh,” I said, “you are acquainted with the young lady?”
“But you don’t like her particularly?”
“Oh,” she said, “she is my best friend.”
“But what do you mean, then?”
“Well,” she said, “it is just this. I believe a Christian ought to live a different life from a worldling. I am a worldling, and I do not profess to be anything else. I have been trying to find satisfaction in the world; I confess I have never found it, but my friend, Miss So-and-So, got up and sang, ‘Jesus Satisfies,’ and that is a lie; He doesn’t satisfy her. She professes to be a Christian, and she often tells me I ought to be a Christian, but when I go to the theater I always find her there, when I go to the ball I find her there, when I go to play cards she is there, when I go into anything of the world, she is always there. What difference is there between her and myself? The only difference I can see is that she professes to have something which I do not profess to possess, but it does not do anything for her. Her life is just like mine.”
What could I as the preacher say? I talked to the young woman, and tried to show her that no matter how Christians fail, Christ abides and He never fails, but she got up and went out unsaved.
The Christian’s power comes from a separated life, and a separated life results from being filled with the Holy Spirit of God. As you walk in obedience to the Word of God the Spirit of God fills you, and thus you go out to live in the world to the glory of the Lord Jesus. One of the troubles of the Corinthians was this, there were many Christians there, but they were trying to give their friends the idea that Christianity was a very liberal thing, and so were amalgamating with the world. And the apostle says, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you. We do not want to find fault with you, we do not want you to think that we are narrow and bound, and do not sympathize with you. We love you, our hearts go out to you; we put these things before you because we love you.” Christians, and especially at times some of our dear young Christians, imagine that when those of us who are interested in their souls speak to them seriously and earnestly about the folly of worldliness, and try to guide them in the path of devotion to Christ, that it is because we have grown older that we do not sympathize with youth and do not understand their problems. Let me say, “Ye are not straitened in us.” Our hearts are really concerned about you, “but ye are straitened in your own bowels,” you are narrowing your own life by worldliness. You do not realize this, you think you are enjoying life because you are letting down the bars, but you are not. You are not getting out of Christ what you might, and you are not getting out of your Christian life what you might, if you were more devoted to the One whom you call Lord. Your life is narrow and straitened because of inconsistency. This was true of the Corinthians, and this is true of many today.
Paul tells them, “I want you to be enlarged, to get the best out of life, to enjoy to the fullest what Christ has for you,” and in order that this may be, he gives them a most earnest exhortation: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” What does he mean by that? The reference is, of course, to the passage in Deuteronomy 22:10. God said to His people, who were an agricultural people, “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.” The ox was a clean beast. It could be offered in sacrifice and its flesh used for food. The ass was an unclean beast. It could not be offered to the Lord and its flesh could not be eaten. And God said, You are not to take these two and yoke them together, even for service, for they do not belong together. And so He says to the Christians, “You cannot expect to glorify Me if linked up with an ungodly man or woman, even for service.” “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” The passage applies to church relationships, to things in society where you have to be in fellowship with unsaved people, to being in business with unsaved folk. Many a Christian has found out to his sorrow that he made his mistake by going into business with an unsaved man, because an unsaved man is actuated by different principles from those which actuate a saved man. And, of course, it applies to the marriage relationship. What a serious thing it is for a Christian young woman to think of giving her hand in marriage to an unconverted man, in the hope, of course, that someday she will be able to win him for Christ, or what a foolish thing for a Christian man to take an unsaved girl for a life companion. If they won’t come to Christ through your earnest pleading before they are married, you are never likely to win them after the honeymoon is over. They will settle back into their own way, and the chances are that instead of you drawing them your way in the days to come, they will begin to draw you their way. You have heard of the boys who found two linnets in the field. They brought them home and put them in cages hung on either side of their canary. The mother asked the reason for this, and they said, “Well, you see, we got these young, and we have hung them by the side of the canary so that they will be accustomed to listening to the canary sing, and so instead of learning to chirp like a linnet they will learn to sing like the canary.” The mother did not say anything, but shook her head, and later on when they came in, they exclaimed, “Why, Mother, listen! Our canary is chirping like a linnet!” That is the way it works. That canary did not get its song back again until they had covered it up for some days, and then when they put it out in the bright sunshine and took the covering off, the little thing began to sing once more. If you are going to count for God you must avoid the unequal yoke. If not, you are going contrary to the Word of God and you cannot expect blessing.
“For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” How can you expect to get on if you have chosen the path of righteousness, and the other, the path of unrighteousness? “What communion hath light with darkness?” Either the darkness must flee before the light, or the light will soon be dimmed by the darkness. You cannot have both at one time. “And what concord hath Christ with Belial?” If you have taken Christ as your Savior, He is your Lord and your Master, and how can you expect to glorify Him if you link up with one who is a follower of Satan? “Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” By “infidel” it does not mean necessarily an atheist, but it means an unbeliever. You profess to believe in the Lord Jesus, you believe that through His death upon the cross your soul is saved. Well, then, what fellowship can you have with one who refuses to trust your Savior? Oh, be careful, Christian. You say, “Well, I want to win them for Christ.” You will win them best by obedience to the Word of God, not by disobedience. Walk with God yourself in holy separation to Christ, and you can expect your testimony to count with others.
“What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” The two are in opposition, the one to the other. “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is the divine ideal, this is what the church of God really is, and any company of believers in any given locality is the temple of the living God in that place. How careful we should be then of anything that would mar the temple, of anything that would hinder the display of God among His own people. Do you know that each Christian meeting with any group of believers is either a help or a hindrance to the entire testimony that goes forth from that place? If you are living for God, walking in holy separation to Christ, you are helping the testimony; if walking waywardly, in willfulness, in worldliness, then you are just helping to that extent to obscure the light that ought to shine forth from the temple of the living God.
The apostle closes that solemn section with this earnest exhortation, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” What does this mean? It means exactly what it says; it does not need any explaining. “Come out from among them” means come out from among them. “Touch not the unclean thing.” What does that mean? It means, touch not the unclean thing. If I tried to explain it, I would only confound and confuse it. Christians are called to walk in separation from the world and to refrain from anything that would contaminate their consciences and hinder their fellowship with God. If you take this position, He says, “[I] will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Is God not my Father if I am a Christian, even though I am not wholly separated from the world? God is the Father of all believers, but He is a Father
unto us only as we walk in obedience to His Word. I am the father of my child, but if he is willful and disobedient I cannot be a father unto him in the sense I would like to be, and so God cannot do what His loving heart yearns to do when we are not walking in obedience to His Word.
Let us yield glad, happy obedience to Him, and thus know the blessedness of these words, “[I] will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 7:1-16
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man. I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more. For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you. Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all. For if I have boasted any thing to him of you, I am not ashamed; but as we spake all things to you in truth, even so our boasting, which I made before Titus, is found a truth. And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things. (vv. 1-16)
In order properly to understand this chapter we need to remember that some time before the apostle Paul had heard of some very serious wrongdoings tolerated in the church of God at Corinth. One offence was of greatest gravity; a man had actually entered into an incestuous, adulterous relationship with his own father’s wife—his stepmother, of course—and the church, instead of immediately dealing with this great sin and seeking to show the man his wickedness, and if he refused to repent excommunicating him from their fellowship, rather gloried in the breadth that would permit them to tolerate a thing like that and go right on without discipline. There were other offences, brother going to law with brother, etc. When the apostle heard of these things he wanted to visit Corinth, and yet he felt that if he did, it would mean he would have to be very stern in dealing with these questions. He disliked this, and, too, the Spirit of God seemed to hinder his going, so instead of that he wrote them a letter, that letter which we have already taken up, the first epistle to the Corinthians, and in it he pointed out these things and called upon them to act in the fear of God. As to the wicked man, the Word of God was, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13).
After having sent the letter Paul was greatly perturbed. The epistle was divinely inspired, and he was a servant of the Lord, but he was a very human personage, just as we are. After he had sent the letter he began to question the wisdom of it; he wondered whether it might simply stir up the flesh in these Corinthians and alienate them further from God and from himself. He questioned whether perhaps it would not have been better if he had gone to them and dealt personally with them, and wondered just what reaction the letter would have upon them. Finally his distress was so keen he could not wait to hear from them in the ordinary way, so he sent his friend and companion, Titus, to Corinth, to find out exactly how they had acted upon receipt of the letter. After waiting some time, still in perturbation of mind (for he loved the church of God, he loved the saints in spite of their failures and he was fearful lest when he wanted to help he might have hurt, lest when he wanted to bless his message might have had the contrary effect), Titus came and said something like this, “Paul, your letter had the effect you desired it to have. Those brethren in Corinth have taken it as a message from God, and have dealt with this evil thing and have put this man out of their fellowship. He, on his part, has accepted it as divine discipline and is repenting in bitterness of soul. He weeps over his sin and feels utterly unworthy of further recognition of fellowship with the church. They have determined that they are going to keep that assembly clean from all these evils.” When Paul heard these things he was greatly rejoiced and sat down and wrote this second letter, and in this chapter he comes to the subject before him.
The first verse properly belongs to the previous chapter: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved.” That leads us to ask what promises, and so we turn back to chapter 6 to find out, and we read in the last two verses, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” God has given promises of blessing that will accrue to us if we walk in separation from evil, and now we must see to it that we meet the conditions. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” How do we cleanse ourselves? We cannot cleanse our own consciences from the guilt of sin. God has to do that. Our consciences can be cleansed from sin only by the precious atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. I could not wash out one stain from a guilty conscience. But if a Christian, having been cleansed from my sin by the blood of Christ, my heart needs daily cleansing, and that is by faith in the Word which God has given. As I receive that Word in faith and I act upon it, I cleanse myself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
What is the difference between filthiness of the flesh and filthiness of the spirit? There are two classes of sin, and all sin is filthy in the sight of God. Filthiness of the flesh refers to sins of the body, and there are so many of them, unholy lusts, unbridled appetites. Drunkenness, gluttony, licentiousness, inordinate affection, are all sins of the flesh, and though at the present time our abominable philosophies throw a glamour over these things they are utterly vile in God’s sight. My own heart is stirred to indignation as I pick up the newspapers or magazines of the day, for there is hardly one that does not seem to be glorifying sin. Alluring advertisements suggest that the grandest thing in the world is to indulge in the free use of strong drink. There are beautiful pictures of lovely women drinking with their men friends, and of the whole family gathered around the table being served cocktails. All this in reputable magazines going into Christian homes to teach our children that drinking is a fashionable and decent and respectable thing, when God’s Word says, “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also” (Hab. 2:15). “Look not upon the wine when it is red” (Prov. 23:31). All men’s efforts to make money by causing us to become a nation of drunkards is something for which they will have to account to Almighty God someday. My heart is stirred when I think of these things. You see the same thing in regard to the vile habit of tobacco. Pick up the magazines that come to your home, and you will see some dainty young woman with an abominable cigarette in her fingers. They are trying to teach our girls that if they would be up-to-date they must become cigarette fiends. I cannot understand Christian women tolerating things like that. There is not one good reason why Christian women, or men either, should poison their bodies with tobacco.
And then again take our bookstands. They are filled with the vilest pornographic literature, glorifying fornication and adultery, as though man reaches the highest and noblest in life when he throws the reins upon every low appetite and lives to please himself in absolute indifference to purity and decency and goodness. Christians ought to be very careful to give everything like this a wide berth. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh,” let us avoid everything that has to do with the filthiness of the flesh.
What about filthiness of the spirit? Vanity, pride, conceit, haughtiness, and unbelief are just as evil as these other things in the sight of God. Take this dainty girl who stands in front of her mirror trying to make a work of art out of her face in order to attract the attention of the opposite sex, that vanity that is so characteristic of her is as truly filthy in the sight of God as the other sins I have been mentioning. Take that man who is so haughty and proud, and is seeking power and authority over his fellows, constantly looking for admiration on the part of men who like himself are going on to the grave, that haughtiness, that pride, is in God’s sight absolutely filthy. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Mark this, none of us have yet attained to perfect holiness. We are commanded to “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). But we follow that which is still before us; we have not attained to holiness, but we are to aim at “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” As we submit ourselves to the Word and seek to judge those things that we see to be contrary to the mind of God, we will grow in grace and thus become holier men and women as the days go by.
Beginning with verse 2 and going on to the end of the chapter, the apostle sets before the Corinthians the exercises that he had in regard to them, and the joy that now fills his soul because they are indeed “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” First, he mentions his claim to their obedience, for he had no right to be heard if in himself he was not seeking to live out what he taught them. But he says, “Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.” Many a one who has taken the position of a servant of Christ, who is recognized as a minister of the gospel, has failed terribly because of lack of care right here. Paul can face the whole world and can say, “We have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.” He did not teach that which would injure others; he did not by his behavior set a bad example to others; he had no part in turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, as some had done, or in defrauding another. He never had to do with money matters that were shady; he did not collect money for one purpose and use it for another; he did not pretend to be raising funds to do certain things with them and then allow them to be turned aside into some other channel. He was straight in all his dealings, and that is what God expects of every servant of His.
And then he says, as it were, “I am not saying this about myself to condemn you, but I want you to know that I am entitled to be heard because I am living what I preach. I love you too much to want to condemn you; you are my children in the Lord, and I am concerned about you, and I want to help you, not to hinder you. My boldness of speech is great, I have told other people of the wonderful work of grace that has taken place in Corinth, and I was in great distress when you were going wrong, but now I am joyful even though I am passing through tribulation.”
“When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” What was the comfort Titus brought? “Not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you.” It did him good to hear how earnest they were in putting away the evildoer from their assembly. Titus told Paul of their “earnest desire,” and their “mourning.” It was not vindictive-ness that put” him away—they mourned over him. Paul rejoiced in their loyalty to him as the one who had led them to Christ. The previous epistle, he found, did upset them. He was not sorry now that he wrote it, but says, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance…For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” This is the divine principle. Of course he is speaking to them as Christians. They had been saved by acting upon the truth revealed to them. But the same principle always prevails. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance not to be repented of.” “Repentance unto salvation”—that leads a man to judge himself in the presence of God, and thus be in the place where God can bless him.
“For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” They were determined to see that the church now was clear of all complicity with evil, they were stirred to the very depths of their souls. The evil must be dealt with if blessing would come, and they valued God’s favor above all else.
And so Paul says, “Though I wrote unto you, I did not do it in order to punish the man that did the wrong, nor in order to comfort the man who was wronged.” It is impossible, you see, for any one to commit that sin without doing wrong himself and wronging others. But he makes it clear that he wrote to show that he really loved them and wanted them to be right with God—that his care for them in the sight of God might appear unto them. Now because of the way they had acted his heart was filled with gladness, and his boasting that he expressed when talking about them had been fully justified, and Titus’ inward affection was more abundant toward them, while he remembered the obedience of them all, how with fear and trembling they received him. What a happy outcome this was, and what a lesson it ought to have for us today! We are continually praying for revival, but we can pray for that from now until doomsday and will not get it, unless as individuals we judge any evil that is in our own lives. It will never come until we as individuals put away all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. That is what God is waiting for, for His people individually to get right with Him. Mark, it is not for us to look at others and say, “O Lord, Thou knowest what a terrible state Thy people are in. Help them to get right with Thee.” No, it is, “Show me any extent to which any sin has found lodgment in my heart and life, and give me grace to judge it in Thy holy presence, that I may put away ‘all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’”
A woman came to a servant of Christ and said, “I wish you would go and talk to my husband; he is getting where he never stays home at night; he sets the children such a bad example; and if I talk to him, he slams the door and out he goes.”
The minister happened to know something of that home, and said to the woman, “Before we pray for your husband there is something I want to talk to you about. What about that vile temper of yours? Go to God and say, ‘O God, I come to Thee confessing my vile, wicked temper; my bad temper is driving my husband from home; it is alienating my children; my bad temper is bringing dishonor on the name of the Lord. Deliver me from that bad temper, that thus I may be able to present the sweetness and graciousness of Christ, and so help my husband and children.’”
Did she do it? She jumped to her feet and ran out in another fit of temper. Let us “perfect holiness in the fear of God” by cleansing
ourselves from “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” and then we may expect blessing.
The Grace of Liberality
2 Corinthians 8:1-24
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also. Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: as it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack. But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you. And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; and not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you. Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you: or our brethren be inquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ. Wherefore show ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf. (vv. 1-24)
We have in this chapter a very wonderful window through which we may look into conditions prevailing in the early church. We are allowed, nineteen hundred years later, to look through this chapter, as it were, into the very life of God’s people so long ago. A famine had taken place in Palestine, and many of the Jewish believers, many of the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea and other parts of Palestine, were suffering. There was a real depression prevailing all over that land. Naturally in such a time the world cares for its own. In those days especially there would be very little provision made, very little concern shown, regarding those who had trusted the Lord Jesus Christ. By that very confession of faith in Him they had lost their standing in Judaism and were obnoxious to the idolatrous system of the Roman Empire. But just as soon as word of their plight reaches the apostle laboring in a distant land, he says, “Now here is the opportunity for the Christians among whom I am working to show how true their fellowship is with their brethren over there in Judea,” and he immediately stresses the importance of self-denial, of giving generously in order that the needs of the Judean believers may be met.
A chapter like this is most instructive to us, for we are still in the world where believers will be going through difficulties and hardships, and we are to be helpers in this way of one another’s faith. We think particularly of those who have left their homes, left the opportunity of making a good salary in this land, to go out to carry the gospel of the grace of God among the heathen. What a shame it would be to us if they were left there suffering for the lack of temporal necessities. It is our privilege to show our fellowship with them by denying ourselves, in order to keep them free from care along these lines. There is a wonderful principle that runs all through this chapter, the principle of brotherly fellowship with those in need. You will notice that the apostle had already brought this matter before the Corinthians when he went through there the year before. He said, “What can you do?” “Well,” they had said, “we will give something; we will do our best.” Now he has been up in Macedonia laboring, and he is coming back through Corinth on his way to Jerusalem, and so writes and practically says, “I hope you are prepared to keep the pledge you made a year ago.”
Sometimes people say, “I do not believe in making pledges.” At the bottom of that there may be utter selfishness. We all make pledges. We make a pledge to the landlord when we promise to pay him so much a month. If you are running a bill at the grocery store, you have pledged to pay for what you purchase. You make pledges when you buy anything on the installment plan. Are God and the work of God the only Person and the only thing that are of so little importance that you cannot risk making a pledge in order to help in Christian service? These Corinthians had made a pledge, and the apostle says, in verse 11, “Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.” They had been willing to do this, they had said, “We will do something, Paul, when you come back again.” “Now,” he says, “you keep that pledge; it may take self-denial; you may have to do without a great many things you want, but these Christians in Judea are doing without very much more.” And so we may have to do without some luxuries if we are going to make and keep a proper pledge toward our missionaries, but they are doing without far more. They do not have grand pianos, expensive radios, and cars, they do not have beautiful homes and furniture, they are doing without these things for Jesus’ sake, and so we can do without many things in order to help them on. Let us look at this a little more carefully.
In the first verse of this chapter he says, “Moreover, brethren, I want you to know of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.” How was that grace manifested? Many of us talk a great deal about grace and show very little. God has manifested grace toward us, and how full of grace our lives ought to be. These Macedonians had been saved by grace, and now the rich grace of giving is bestowed upon them. Giving is a grace. “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” Notice four expressions here: “Great trial of affliction,” “abundance of joy,” “deep poverty,” “riches of liberality.” Is it not remarkable to find all four of these expressions brought into such an intimate relationship? They were going through a great trial, “a great trial of affliction.” But out of “the abundance of their joy,” yet coupled with “their deep poverty,” they gave, and it “abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” I do not think that means that they gave large sums. They probably did not have large sums to give, but the little was regarded by God as a larger gift than if very much more had come from people far more wealthy than the Macedonians. God’s way of estimating gifts is different from ours. He estimates our gifts, not by the amount we give, but by the amount we have left. If a man is a millionaire and gives a thousand dollars, that does not count as much as one who has an income of a dollar a day and gives a dime. And so we need not be afraid to bring our little gifts, thinking He may despise them. He said of the poor widow, “[She] hath cast in more than they all:…[for] she [gave] of her [poverty]…all the living that she had” (Luke 21:3-4).
They were taking up a missionary offering once in a Scotch church. One rather close-fisted brother was there, known to be worth something like £50,000, which in those days was considered a fortune, and as the deacons went around taking up the offering, one of them whispered to him, “Brother, how much are you going to give?”
“Oh, well, I will put in the widow’s mite,” he said, and prepared to put in a penny.
“Brethren,” the deacon called out, “we have all we need; this brother is giving £50,000.”
If he was going to give the widow’s mite, he would have to give all he had, you see. It is the widows who give like that, not the rich folk.
But these poor Macedonians out of their poverty gave, and gave with joy. They did not give grudgingly; they were glad to do what they could; and the apostle says, “For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves.” They gave to the very limit, and would have given more if they could have done so.
“How much are you going to give, brother?” somebody asked. “Oh,” he said, “I guess I can give ten dollars and not feel it.”
“Brother,” said the first man, “make it twenty, and feel it; the blessing comes when you feel it.”
These people gave until they felt it, and they had to pray the apostle to receive their gifts. It would be a great treat to get to the place where that would be the case. It seems that at Macedonia the apostle just mentioned the need, and then we read, “Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”
In the next verse you can see how they did it. “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” You see, if I have given myself to the Lord, the rest all follows.
Naught that I have my own I call,
I hold it for the Giver;
My heart, my strength, my life, my all,
Are His, and His forever.
And so, because they insisted, he says that he has asked Titus to go on to the Corinthians and get their gift, and add it to that of the Macedonians.
“Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.” In other words, you with your fine homes, you with your elegant dress, with all your privileges, you have everything your heart could wish, you who believe that business is business, now see that you abound in this grace also, see that you are just as rich in the grace of giving as in anything else. “I speak not by commandment,” I am not commanding you. I am not going to order you to give. This is the dispensation of the grace of God. “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.” In other words, I am trying to make you ashamed as I tell you what others have done, and he points them to the supreme example of self-abnegation. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” How can I speak of following Him, how can I speak of being saved by His grace, if I do not seek to imitate Him in His self-denying concern for those in need? He saw me in my deep, deep need, and He came all the way from His home in heaven, laying aside the glory that He had with the Father from eternity, down to the depths of Calvary’s anguish—and to the darkness of the tomb. He who was rich for my sake became poor, that through His poverty I might be enriched through eternity. And He has left us an example that we should follow His steps.
Notice, Paul never asked for money for himself. Even when he was laboring in Corinth he said, “I robbed other churches…to do you service” (11:8). Other churches sent their missionary money to him, but now that they are Christians he does not want them to forget their responsibilities. He never asks anything for himself, and the true servant of Christ is not going to try to stir people up to do for him, but he will be concerned for the needs of others. Paul would never beg for himself, but he had no shame about pleading most earnestly for others when occasion arose.
“Herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.” And then verse 12, “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” It was not a question of saying, “Well, I would do something but am not able,” but a question of doing what they could. If you can give only a little to the Lord, give that, and He will multiply it. If you can give a great deal, give it to Him. He looks into the heart. Many a one puts in a dime, and on the books of heaven it goes down as though it were a dollar, but do not put in a dime if you could give the dollar, for that won’t go down at all!
“I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.” Someday things may change; someday it may be the Corinthians who will be in poverty, and the Jerusalem saints may be sending to minister to them in their need, but give as unto the Lord, because it is written in the Old Testament, and this refers to the manna, “He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.” You remember it was God who gave the manna, and He said, Just gather for your need. A man may have said, “Well, I am going to gather in while the gathering is good. Bring out all the pots and pails and the wash-tub, and I will fill them,” and he might have had enough to last him a month. But the next morning when he went to look at it, he would find that it had bred worms and was worthless. If he did not use what he got from day to day it went for nothing, but if he got just a little it saw him through. After all, you can only use so much of this world’s goods; use the surplus to the glory of God and the blessing of a needy world.
In verse 16 to the end of the chapter he shows the importance of carefully handling funds that are entrusted to the church. I think that a great many otherwise well-meaning servants of Christ have failed tremendously right along this line. They gather vast sums of money, making themselves responsible for its use, and no one ever knows whether it has been used in the way promised. The apostle says there should never be anything like that. You must handle the funds in such a way that they can be checked up, and people may know that everything has been used aright. And so the apostle would not touch a penny of it, but said, “We will appoint accredited men to look after it,” and he appointed two unnamed brethren and his friend, Titus, as a committee to handle all the money, to pay it out and to give an account of everything.
“But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you.” Paul had urged Titus to do this work, but he was also anxious to do it of his own accord; he was glad to take up this service. And then we read, “And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches.” This brother’s name is not given but they knew him well, for he was chosen by the church. “And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind.” And why did they do this? “Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us.” In other words, he did not want anybody to be able to say, “Oh, Paul is gathering in a great deal of money. Who knows what he is doing with it! First thing we know he will be coming out with some very expensive equipage that he has bought out of that money.”
“Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” The Lord knows what we do with the money, but he says, “That is not enough; we want God’s people to know also.” And then, in addition to Titus and this brother, Paul had sent another one. The testimony of two men is true, we read, but it is written, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16). “And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you.” He found a man who was an expert in business matters, and says, “We have sent him along too.”
And then he gives a little word of commendation of these brethren. “Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you: or our brethren be inquired of, they are the apostles of the churches [the word
messenger there is the word
apostle], and the glory of Christ. Wherefore show ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf.” The proof of love is in giving. We say we are interested in missions—prove it by giving. We say we are interested in poor saints—prove it by giving. We say we are interested in supporting the Lord’s work—prove it by giving. God gave—“God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Christ so loved the church that He gave Himself for it, and now we who through grace know God as our Father and Christ as our Savior are called upon to show our love by giving.