“For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us; ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf. For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end; as also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit; and to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea. When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay? But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea. For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor. 1: 8-20).
Before continuing the exposition of this book it may be well to give a brief outline of its contents. In chapters 1 to 7 the apostle dwells in large measure on the trials, the character, and the training of the servant of Christ, and the result of his ministry. He uses himself largely as an example in order to bring these things home to us.
In chapters 8 and 9 we have the second division of this epistle, in which the apostle deals with a question that comes home to every one of us, our money. In other words, the subject is, “The Grace of Giving.” Giving is a grace. The natural man wants to get rather than to give. Here and there we run across generous folk who, even in their unconverted days, get a certain satisfaction out of giving to others, but most of us like to get, to receive rather than to distribute. But when Christ works in the soul, giving to those in need and for the furtherance of the work of the Lord becomes the joy of life. And so we speak of the Grace of Giving, and this subject is taken up very fully in these chapters.
In chapters 10 to 12, the third division of the epistle, we have Paul’s vindication of his own apostleship. There were those dogging his steps, moving in and out among his converts, reflecting upon his ministry and calling in question his apostolic authority. And so he found it neces- sary, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, to insist upon the fact that he was actually an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Chapter 13 is the conclusion.
This gives us the outline of the epistle, and with this before us we turn to consider the verses of the second section of this first chapter. Here we read of the troubles, the difficulties, the perplexities that Paul and his fellow-laborers were going through, but he shows that God has a wonderful purpose in permitting all these things. It is hard for us to realize, but it is true that God can do far more with a broken man than with a man who seems strong in his own strength and power. And so He permits trouble to come upon His people, and even upon His chosen vessels, in order that they may be humble and broken in spirit before Him.
Our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). We naturally admire a man of strength and initiative, a man who has a great deal of self-confidence and self-esteem. It was our great President Theodore Roosevelt who said, “I hate a meek man.” I am sure he did not realize the implication that might be taken from that statement, for that would imply hatred of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we know he never meant. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29). We do not come naturally by meekness. In the prophecy of Zephaniah (2:3) we are admonished to “seek meekness,” as though it is a very rare jewel of character which is found only by careful searching. It is not like us to seek meekness; as a rule we are naturally so proud, we are so haughty, so wickedly conceited, so self-occupied. Because of these very things if God is going to use us in His service, He has to permit us to go through experiences which will humble and break us.
We are told how Goldsmidt sat listening to Jenny Lind as she charmed thousands by her wonderful voice. Some one asked the great music critic, “What do you think of her? Isn’t she marvelous?”
“Well,” he said, “she is wonderful; she needs just one thing; she needs to have her heart broken. If her heart were broken, she would be the greatest singer in the world.”
Afterward, you remember, he won her heart and then broke it by his unkindness, and after that there was a depth of tenderness, there was something to her singing that stirred people as nothing else had ever done in the past. So it is with preachers of the Word of God. If they stand apart from the troubles that others are going through, they will have no real message for the hearts of men. It is the man who in some measure at least is like his Master, “A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” who is able to minister to a broken-hearted, suffering, distressed people. And so the apostle Paul learned to glory in tribulation and to thank God for distresses because they only fitted him the better to be a servant of Him of whom it is written, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them” (Isa. 63: 9).
Listen again to these words, “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” When that great raging crowd gathered about him, howling for his life, and would have trampled him beneath their feet, and he saw nothing but a martyr’s death before him, nevertheless Paul says, “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” Paul could face that howling mob and say, “It is all right if they tear us to pieces, if they tear us limb from limb. If they utterly destroy this mortal body, it means nothing to us. We have already taken the place of death with Christ, we have already said that we are dead to the world, to its favor, and to its follies, and now if they make that actually true by destroying these bodies, it is all right. We have the sentence of death in ourselves, we are men devoted to death, men who have made a rendezvous with death for Jesus’ sake. Our trust is in Him who raiseth the dead, even the living God.” It is only as a man knows the power of Christ working within him that he is able to speak like this, and to live it out, but this is what has enabled the people of God to triumph all down through the centuries. Again and again the devil has stirred up hatred against Christ’s servants, and the martyrs are numbered by the thousands and tens of thousands, but Satan has been foiled every time that he has tried to hinder the work of the Lord by persecution. Still the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The gospel flourishes in times of tribulation.
The Church’s worst times are not times of suffering, of martyrdom. The Church’s most dangerous periods are those when she is enjoying the patronage of the world. The Church is never in such grave danger as when the world is fawning upon it, when worldlings look upon it with favor. Our Lord Jesus warned His disciples of the danger when all men spake well of them. When people are persecuted for Christ’s sake, when they have to go through affliction and troubles and sorrows, that is the time they draw nearer to the Lord. You remember the old fable in our school-books, how the sun and the wind were trying to see which was the stronger. The traveler went on his way and each tried to see which could get him to take his overcoat off first. The wind blew and blew, but the traveler wrapped his coat about him more securely. And then the sun beamed upon the man and he began to perspire, and off went the coat. It is when worldly prosperity shines upon the Church that off goes the robe of righteous behavior. But when the wintry blasts of trouble and persecution break upon it, then the Church wraps itself all the more closely in the garment of salvation. Paul knew that tribulation was for blessing. God uses broken men, and if men will not humble themselves before Him in order to make them vessels to carry His testimony to others, He will give them experiences to break them.
Then, observe, the apostle found that despite the persecution God came in at the right moment with a threefold deliverance. In verse 10 we read: “Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us.” We can apply this to the question of our salvation. Actually the apostle is speaking of deliverance from trial and distress here on the earth. God has delivered, and as we continue our service God does deliver, and as we look forward to the future He will yet deliver. This is faith’s confidence in our gracious God and Father.
But we may apply it spiritually. Our salvation, in a spiritual sense, is threefold, and we may read it: “Who saved us from so great a death, and doth save: in whom we trust that He will yet save us.” When we came to Him as poor lost sinners, He saved us from the judgment due to our sins. How great a death was that from which we were delivered. And day by day as we go through this scene “He doth deliver us.” He delivers from the power of sin, from the strength of our own natures. He delivers from temptation; He, always with the temptation, makes “a way of escape that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). And one of these days, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him, our salvation will be completed. And so we look on to that time when “He shall yet deliver,” when He will fully and completely save us. We have often put it like this: He has saved us from the judgment due to sin and from the guilt of sin; He does save us from the power of sin; by and by He will save us from the very presence of sin, giving us our glorified bodies when we will no longer have the least tendency to evil of any kind.
“Soon we’ll pass this desert dreary,
Soon we’ll bid farewell to pain;
Nevermore be sad or weary,
Never, never sin again.”
What a deliverance that will be! When we will never have to bow the knee again to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others,” when we will never have to wipe away tears of penitence, for throughout endless ages we shall be free from the presence of sin in the joy of everlasting communion with our blessed Lord. That will be our complete deliverance, but meantime, as we are going on, we tread the pilgrim way, and need daily deliverance.
There are certain things that God has ordained to be of assistance along the way. One of them is mentioned in the eleventh verse: “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” Pray one for another. Those of us trying to preach the Word, seeking to do public service for the Lord Jesus Christ, will never know until we get home to Heaven how much we are indebted for sustaining grace to the prayers of God’s hidden ones. My heart always rejoices when anyone writes or says to me, “I am praying for you,” for I need to be prayed for. I am so forgetful about prayer myself; so many times when I should be praying I am busy at something else, and often if there is any power at all in my messages I know it is because somebody at home or in the audience is praying for me. One owes so much to the prayers of God’s beloved people. Was there ever such a man of God as the apostle Paul in all the centuries since? And yet how dependent he was upon the prayers of believers. Go through his epistles and you will find again and again the exhortation, “Brethren, pray for us.” Time spent in praying for the servants of God is not a waste of time or breath. Prayer accomplishes things for God, and God will do in answer to prayer what He will not do apart from prayer.
And so the apostle says, “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” That is, we go out to preach the Word and God uses it in blessing, but we know it is not of ourselves; there are many persons backing us up, and praying and bearing up our ministry before God.
But now the man who would count on the sustaining power of the Spirit of God in the hour of trial, and the man who has a right to ask the saints of God to pray for him, is the man who can say what Paul said, in verse 12: “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our behavior in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.” What a statement this is! Think of being able to turn to a group among whom he has ministered and say, “We have sought to be right; we have not given ourselves to any mere oratorical clap-trap when we have stood up to preach the Word, but we have done it in simplicity and godly sincerity, in genuineness in the sight of God.” Is it not strange that we can be so particular as to how we appear in the sight of men, and yet can be so unreal in the presence of God? Think of even trying to preach the Word and, as far as man can see, putting one’s whole soul into the effort to glorify Christ, and yet have hidden in the heart only the desire for the applause of men.
Paul could say, Our own conscience bears witness to the fact that we have tried to be real in the presence of God. And as we have ministered the Word we have sought to be honest with God as well as with man, not with fleshly wisdom, not depending upon the things that will reach the mere natural man and please and satisfy his craving for eloquence or excitement, but as acting in the fear of God we have had our behavior in the world. We have lived what we preached. We have not taught people to be honest and then been dishonest ourselves. We have not called on people to be humble when we ourselves were proud. We have not exhorted others to be self-denying while we were grasping and covetous. We have not told people that they ought to be unworldly while we ourselves were going after the pleasures and follies of the world. There is something here to search our hearts, something to lead us into the presence of God in self-judgment. Would to God we could say what Paul says, “We have had our behavior in the world in all integrity.”
“For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end.” He knew that they were glad to recognize the fact that they had been blessed through him, but on the other hand they were being misled by people coming in and seeking to turn them away from their first confidence in this man of God.
“We are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.” When by and by we stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, it will all be revealed. We led you to Christ, you went on with God, and so brought joy to us. But on the other hand, he knew that they were being estranged by little gossipy things that were being said by enemies of the truth, trying to alienate the hearts of the Corinthians from Paul, and so in the last part of this section he has to justify himself.
He first tells them that he meant to come to them. He had never gotten there, and some evil people had taken that up and said, “Don’t you see, he never meant to go; he is afraid to go. He writes pretty strong letters when he is away from you, his writing is strong, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible. He doesn’t dare face you about these things. He just says he will go and then when it comes to doing it, he says, ‘I will not go.’” But Paul declares that his purpose was “to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea.” Corinth was a port, and he had to go from Corinth up to Macedonia, and while he had intended taking that trip certain circumstances had obliged him to take another route. Then he says, “When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?” In other words, Did I have no real purpose?
Thus they wanted to accuse the apostle of lightness and carnality even in making appointments. He says, “As God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay.” It was not that he was careless or light or frivolous about it, but he was not able to carry out his plans because of certain providential happenings. Paul was a fol- lower of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He did not say one thing and mean another. “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea.” See how he links others with himself. There is something truly fine about a man who can always recognize the greatness of other folk. Here Paul links with him Silvanus and Timotheus. He says, “We really intended to carry this out, but we could not.”
“For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him, Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” God never undertakes to do something He cannot carry out. When He makes a promise, He will always carry it through. He has never made a promise to us that He will ever have to explain away afterwards. He will never say, “I meant to do that, but circumstances would not permit.” We have to make confessions like that from time to time, but God never fails to keep His promises. He is able to perform every one, and Christ is the Amen to every promise of God.