Comfort In Affliction
2 Corinthians 1:1-7
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation, (vv. 1-7)
The first letter to the Corinthians, as we have seen, has to do with order in the church of God here on earth. Someone has aptly called it, “The Charter of the Church.” There are some people who would foolishly set to one side most of Paul’s earlier epistles as though they did not have a full dispensational place for our day, but it is an important thing to note that if we were to set First Corinthians to one side we would then have no other portion of the New Testament giving us any direction whatsoever as to the order and discipline of the churches of God here in the world. Here alone we get divine instruction as to these things.
When we come to the second epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle unfolds for us the ministry of the churches of God. I say “churches” because we are thinking of individual congregations. The two terms are used in Scripture. Paul says, “I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it” (Gal. 1:13). He means the entire church wherever he found it, but he also speaks of the churches of God in Judea and in Galatia, etc., referring to local assemblies. God has Himself appointed the ministry for His churches, and we have the order and the choosing of that ministry, the nature of it, in this second letter to the Corinthians.
First of all we find that it is a divinely trained ministry. It is not a question of college training; it is not a question of graduating from a university nor of going through some particular seminary. All of these things may or may not be important in the training of a servant of God, but the first great prerequisite is that Christ’s minister be one who has learned to walk with the blessed Lord Jesus and to go through the school of affliction. At the beginning of the letter we read how wonderfully God sustains His servants in the hour of trial.
In this first chapter we have the apostolic salutation (vv. 1-2): “Paul, an apostle [a sent one] of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.” Achaia was the name of the district, or province, as we would call it today, and Corinth was its chief city. Paul had labored for a year and a half in Corinth, and through his labors a great many throughout the entire district of Achaia had been converted. A church of God had been formed in the city, a rather remarkable church in some ways because we read, “They came behind in no gift.” Evidences of special divine favor rested upon them, and yet it was a church that, like others, had to endure trial and affliction for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Paul wishes, “Grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ,” in view of trial. It is not the grace that saves that is spoken of here; they were already saved; it is the grace that sustains. We who are saved by grace still need fresh supplies of grace for every step of the way, and so we are bidden to “Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace [for seasonable help]” (Heb. 4:16). This is the grace which the apostle prays may be the abiding portion of the people of God. And then he asks that peace may be given. It is not peace
with God. That they already enjoyed. Every rightly instructed believer ought to enter into that. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1)—this is peace in view of the sin question. That has been settled and our consciences now are at peace, for we know that God is satisfied and we rest in that which has satisfied Him. But there is another aspect of peace that we need. We are going through a difficult scene, traveling through a world where affliction, sorrow, bereavement, and suffering abound, and if it were not for special mercy ministered to us from day to day we might be overwhelmed by the difficulties of our pilgrim journey. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa. 26:3). This is the peace for which the apostle prays, that the people of God may so walk before Him that they may enjoy His peace whatever their circumstances. As we read in Philippians 4:6, “Be not anxious about anything; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
In the early days of the church when thousands were sealing their testimony with their blood, God enabled His beloved people to go through the keenest sufferings not only without resentment toward their enemies, but with the peace of God garrisoning their hearts, and He still calls on people to give up their lives for the gospel’s sake. The noble army of martyrs praise Him. Christianity is a wonderful thing; it enables people to triumph over all circumstances. As we think of what some of the missionaries of the cross are called upon to endure, it ought to make many of us at home ashamed that we allow such trivial things to disturb our spirits. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). Think of the little things that fret us because we are a bit short of money now and then, because we have pain and aches occasionally, because we have to face a little in the way of trouble and trial. How small these things are compared with what many of God’s dear servants in distant places are undergoing for Him! But the same grace that sustains them in their trial is needed to sustain us in ours, and, thank God, it is at our disposal. The apostle celebrates that grace in the verses that follow.
First, there is an overflowing of the heart in praise. “Blessed be God.” Does your heart often say that? Let the Lord be praised! Let Him be worshiped and adored! How much there is to praise Him for. “Blessed be God!” Billy Bray, the Cornish miner, used to say, “If they were to put me in a barrel, I would shout, ‘Glory to God!’ through the bung-hole.” When poverty stared him in the face, he said, “If the meal barrel is empty, I will put my head in the barrel and praise the Lord.” One day his wife came to him and said, “Do you know, we haven’t a penny left?”
“Is that so?” he said.
“And what is more, we have no food left. I went to the barrel to see whether I could find something to do a little baking with, but there is nothing left. Now practice what you preach, and put your head in the flour-barrel and say, ‘Praise the Lord.’”
He said, “Well, if you will put yours in with me, I will.”
“All right,” she said; “I will.”
And so they went to the empty flour-barrel and both put their heads in and said, “Praise the Lord!” and then they prayed. When they came out, there was a lot of flour on their heads, they were pretty well powdered-up. They went into the study with a song of joy in their hearts, and almost the next thing there was a knock at the door, and someone said that the Lord had sent him to minister to them. It is a great thing to be able to bless the Lord whatever our circumstances are.
David says, “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1). I am afraid some of us do not know much about that. We bless the Lord when we have plenty, and growl when we have not. But David says, “I will bless the Lord at
all times.” Job was able to say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). You know the Devil said to God, “That man loves You only for what he gets out of You; he loves You for the gifts You give him.” So God said, “Take everything away, and see.” And Satan took everything away, and Job says, “Bless the Lord anyway!” God grant that He may fill our hearts with praise! “Whoso offereth praise glorifleth me.” Think of that the next time you feel like growling and complaining.
“Blessed be God!” And who is this God that we bless? “Even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice, He does not here suggest His Fatherhood of us as believers. That comes out later, but first of all He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You see our blessed Lord is His Son by a unique relationship into which no one else can ever enter. We are sons of God by a second birth, but our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God from all eternity, and therefore in a special sense God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here then is the proof of His love. He had but the one Son and He gave Him for us, and shall we ever doubt His love because times seem a little difficult, sickness lays us low, finances seem to disappear, bereavement enters our home? “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And then notice the next title Paul gives Him, “The Father of mercies.” That is, our God is the source of every mercy that comes to us. David says, “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” (Ps. 23:6). Some of these mercies we do not always appreciate. We sometimes think perhaps that God is dealing hardly with us when He is really dealing with us in mercy. A friend of mine who went to heaven some years ago told of a time when he was riding on the top of an omnibus in Vienna, Austria, and they were held up because a flock of sheep was going down the street. As the folk on the bus leaned over to see what was going on, they noticed that there were two dogs running hither and thither to keep the sheep in the way. This friend turned to a stranger seated beside him and said, “Do you know the names of those two dogs?”
The man said, “Indeed, I do not; I have never seen a sight like this before.”
“Well,” said my friend, “I think I know their names.”
“Yes, one of them is ‘Goodness’ and the other is ‘Mercy,’ for David wrote about goodness and mercy following him all the days of his life.”
You might not think it was goodness and mercy to have a couple of dogs yapping at you to keep you from going to the left or to the right, but it is God’s mercy that keeps us in the straight and narrow way, and He uses trial and difficulty for that very purpose. He is “the Father of mercies.”
And then again He is called “The God of all comfort.” There are two things of which God is said to have the monopoly: He is “the God of
all grace” and He is “the God of
all comfort.” All grace comes from Him, all lasting comfort comes from Him. “Consolation” and “comfort” are the same in the original text, and you get it from God. I suppose you have noticed that in the Word of God the three Persons of the blessed adorable Trinity are all spoken of as engaged in the ministry of comfort. Here we have the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as the God of all comfort. Then we remember the title the blessed Lord uses for the Holy Spirit. John 14-16 speak of Him as “Another Comforter,” the
“Parakletos,” the One who comes to our help to sustain and strengthen. And in 1 John 2:1 we read, “If any man sin, we have an
advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word
advocate is the same Greek word translated “Comforter” in the other passages. “If any man sin, we have a Comforter.” That refers to the Lord Jesus. So God the Father is the Comforter, God the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, and God the Son is the Comforter. How wonderfully well we are taken care of! The entire Godhead is engaged in comforting and sustaining the people of the Lord.
The first aspect of comfort we all need is that of forgiveness. It was the Lord Jesus who said to the poor troubled one, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matt. 9:22). Has He said that to you? Do you know the comfort of divine forgiveness? “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…Cry unto her…that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1-2). The “double” was really the doubling up of the bond after it was paid, and the debt that stood against us has been paid by our Lord Jesus, and so ours may be the comfort of forgiveness.
But then we need comfort to help in every time of trial as we go through this world, and we have the blessed Holy Spirit dwelling within us to be our Comforter. There is a lovely word in the sixty-sixth chapter of the book of the Prophet Isaiah, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” There are different Hebrew words translated “comfort.” This particular one really comes from a root that means “to sigh.” “As one whom his mother sighs with, so I the Lord will sigh with you.” Why did they translate that “comfort”? Do you get any comfort like that? Do you remember when you were a little tot and in some trouble and distress, and mother drew you into her arms and patted your head and said, “Yes, yes, mother understands; mother feels with you in it all”? Your mother “sighed” with you, and it helped wonderfully. Mothers are wonderful people. I sometimes say they are amiable witches, they are wonderworkers. A little chap running around the yard hurts himself, the knee is cut, and mother picks him up in her arms, and even before she gets the antiseptic she kisses it and says, “Yes, yes, mother knows it hurts,” and the little fellow says, “Mamma, it is better already.” Our God enters with us into all our troubles; He is not an indifferent spectator.
A minister tells the story how years ago when he was a young preacher he had been very busy one entire week and did not have time to get at his Sunday sermons until Saturday morning. He felt he must take the entire day to concentrate and get ready for the Lord’s Day services. He said to his wife, “My dear, I must not be disturbed this morning. I am going into my study and have to get up two sermons for tomorrow. You just tell everybody I cannot see them.” And so she took her place as guardian. She had not been told to keep the children out, and the little folks came in and were playing noisily. Finally he said, “Mother, I cannot study with these children making so much noise,” and so she came running with a wooden basin full of nuts and a nut-cracker, thinking that would keep them occupied. But there was only one nut-cracker and there were three children, and they soon began fussing about who should have it. The little girl found she could crack nuts without a cracker; she could go to the door and put the nut against the jamb and pull the door and the nut was cracked. And so she held the nuts while her brother pulled the door, but suddenly the door came too quickly and she did not get her finger away, and she let out such a scream that the poor man with his overwrought nerves jumped up and said, “Mother, mother, you must come and take these noisy children away. I cannot study with them here.” She came running along and said, “Come, you must come away,” and started down the hallway with them. The little thing was crying so hard, and the minister could hear the mother saying, “Oh, my darling, does it hurt so much? Does it hurt so dreadfully?” And between her sobs she said, “It isn’t that it hurts so much, but Daddy never even said, ‘Oh’!” To feel there was no loving sympathy was what hurt. Dear child of God, am I speaking to someone lying on a bed of sickness, enduring pain and anguish? Do you love the Lord Jesus? He loves you, and your God and Father is looking down upon you and saying, “Oh.” For it is written, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity he redeemed them” (Isa. 63:9). As one whom his mother says “Oh” with, so the Lord your God says “Oh” with you. His comfort is a very real thing. He feels for you, and it is said of the Lord Jesus, “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He has been over the road. You can never suffer as He did; He sounded the depths of human loneliness and anguish, and now He can feel for you in all you go through.
And so the apostle says, “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” We are often so selfish. We want people to take cognizance of our suffering; we want sympathy and a kind word and love. But we forget that there are others all around us who need it too, and if God comforts you in your trial, it is that you may comfort someone else. You will be able to say, “I know; I have been through it myself, and let me tell you how wonderfully the Lord undertook for me, He can do it for you too.”
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” The greater the suffering, the more we are called upon to endure, the more wonderful the opportunity we have of learning what a God our God is, and how marvelously He can meet every need of the human heart.
“Whether we be afflicted,” says the apostle, “it is for your consolation and salvation.” He was willing to suffer that others might be blessed. “Which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Since you Corinthians became Christians you are suffering for Christ. We suffered to bring Christ to you, and you are now entering into what we have been enduring. Let us together find our comfort in God.
“Whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.” What a word of cheer that ought to be to any tried, troubled saint of God. You are partaker of the suffering, you are going through a time of special stress, but according to the Word of God you shall be partaker of the consolation. The Lord is ready to undertake for you, He in His infinite grace is waiting to minister to your deep need. Just trust Him, and after you have suffered a while He will bring you out to His own praise and glory. Meanwhile may it be yours and mine to “glorify him in the fire.”
If you are unsaved, how much you are missing! You do not know the comfort of the Triune God. You are turning away from your best Friend, and you do not realize it. You remember the invitation of the Lord Jesus as He looked out upon the sin-sick world and said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). And this invitation comes to you today. Will you come? Will you find in Him that rest which you can never find anywhere else? No matter what your sin, no matter what your anxiety, He waits to meet every need if you will only trust Him.
2 Corinthians 1:8-20
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. (vv. 8-20)
Before continuing the exposition of this book it may be well to give a brief outline of its contents. In chapters 1-7 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 8-9 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 10-12, 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 necessary, 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 we are admonished to “seek meekness” (2:3), 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. Someone 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 unkind-ness, 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 brokenhearted, 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 schoolbooks, 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 Gods 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 follower 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.
Operations Of The Holy Spirit
2 Corinthians 1:21-22
Now he which establisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts, (vv. 21-22)
We have in these verses, suggested at least, every operation of the Holy Spirit of God that is brought before us elsewhere in the New Testament. There is absolutely no ministry of the Holy Spirit as far as the believer is concerned that is not touched on here. In the Revised Version there is a slight change which helps to make it clearer. “Now He which
establisheth us with you
into Christ, and hath anointed us, is God.”
When we think of establishment into Christ by the Holy Spirit, we necessarily think, if we are intelligent in the understanding of the truth of Scripture, of three very definite operations of the Holy Spirit. We think first of all of conviction, or sanctification by the Spirit. Secondly, we think of the new birth by the Spirit through the Word. And thirdly, we think of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. All these operations are involved in the establishment of a believer into Christ. No one is in Christ by natural birth.
“As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). All men naturally are in Adam. To be in Adam means that we have received life from Adam. He was our federal head; we belong by nature to Adam’s race, and that entire race is under judgment because of sin. To be in Christ means that we have received life from Christ, and that He, the risen exalted One in heaven, is the Head of a new race, a new creation to which we now belong. The steps by which we enter into that new creation are laid down very clearly in the Word.
First of all, no one would ever come to Christ if it were not for the convicting, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit of God. Unless the Spirit of God awakens a man, unless the Spirit of God brings him to see his lost condition, convicts him of the tremendous truths of Holy Scripture, no man would ever of himself turn to Christ. That is a very solemn fact, but it is a fact nevertheless. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). On the other hand, it is quite possible for the Spirit of God to operate in convicting power on the heart of man and yet that man do what the Jews did in Stephen’s day. It is written of them, “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51). So it is possible to be convicted by the Spirit and yet to resist the Spirit. But there must be the convicting work of the Spirit of God or no one would ever come to Christ. Jesus Christ said, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will convince [or convict] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8). Conviction is far more than a mere emotional breakdown. People often confound conviction with that. Such a breakdown may be there, and we are glad sometimes when it is. Most of us are so cold and stony-hearted that it is refreshing to see people break down and weep over their sins. The saintly Rutherford complained in his day that there were so few who ever had a sick night for sin. There must be first a recognition of one’s utterly lost condition. The Spirit of God has come to convict of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Our Lord Jesus says, “Of sin, because they believe not on me.” The great damning sin that is sending men down to perdition is the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not told that the Spirit of God was sent particularly to convict men of sins of the flesh and sins of a general character. Every man’s conscience convicts him of the sinfulness of licentiousness, of immoral living, of lying, of drunkenness, of pride and vanity, and all these other things, and if a man’s conscience should be so dulled by continual sinning that it seems to cease to register, still there is God’s holy law with its stern “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” which will convict any honest man of the sinfulness of a wicked life.
The Holy Spirit came to convict of the sin of rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ. God took the entire sin question into account when the Lord Jesus Christ hung on Calvary’s cross, and because of what Christ did then and there, God is able to “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). But if men reject the Lord Jesus Christ, if men refuse to put their trust in Him, they have to go on to judgment, to face their own sins when they will be judged, every man according to his works. Some men rather pride themselves on their morality, on their respectability, and say, “I do not know that I need the salvation of God. I have never been guilty of breaking the moral code.” Let me ask you this: Have you received the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s blessed Son, as your own personal Savior? If not, if you are still rejecting Him, you are guilty of the worst sin that any one can possibly commit, for God has given heaven’s best, in sending His blessed Son to earth to bleed and die for your redemption. Can there be any greater sin, any worse offense in the eyes of a holy God, than to reject that Savior, to trample on His grace, and spurn His loving-kindness? It is the work of the Spirit of God to convict men of the sin of the rejection of Christ, and then to convict of righteousness. That is, to show men that though they have no righteousness of their own God has provided one for them in His risen Son. And so the apostle cries, “[I would] be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). Yet Saul of Tarsus did not feel that way in his unconverted days. It was not until the Spirit of God convicted him of righteousness that he said, “Now I see it. I gladly part with every pretension to righteousness of my own; I would be found in Christ.”
The Holy Spirit comes to convict of judgment. Not merely of judgment to come, but of the fact that this world is already under judgment, and that every believer is brought out from that judgment, and is raised up with this risen Christ, and so is called to walk apart from the world. Jesus said, “Because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:11). Satan is the prince of this world, and at the cross the ancient prophecy was fulfilled, “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). At the cross Satan bruised the heel of the Son of God, but there his own head was bruised, and now he is a judged prince, and the entire scene that recognizes his authority is under judgment. You and I are called by grace to step out from it all and take our place with the Christ whom the world rejected.
Scripture sometimes uses another term for the convicting work of the Spirit of God; it speaks of the sanctification of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 the apostle mentions some very ungodly people, and then he says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
Sanctification means to be set apart. You who are in Christ, do you not remember when you were part of this ungodly world? You lived for the world and for self, and then the hour came when earthly things began to pall upon you, you lost your appetite for the pleasures of the world and you were deeply concerned about your sinful and lost condition. You said, “I cannot live like this; I want something better than the world has ever given me,” and your trouble went on until you came to Christ and believing in Him you were justified. That was the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit of God that thus led you to Christ. When people come to Christ, when the Spirit of God leads them to His blessed feet and they believe the gospel, what takes place? They are immediately born again. “Being born again,” says Peter, “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23).
Our Lord Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). People get confused about the water in that verse. They imagine sometimes that it means baptism, but Christian baptism had not been instituted when the Lord Jesus used those words. The best way to find out what it means is to go through John’s writings and see how he speaks of water. You remember Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Whatever water means in John 3 it means exactly the same in John 4, and Jesus is not talking about drinking the water of baptism. Even when we are immersed we close our lips; we do not drink the water. But He is speaking of another kind of water altogether. We read in Revelation 22:17: “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” What is the water of life? It is the offer of life that Jesus gives, the message that we have here in the Word of God. That Word has cleansing and refreshing power, and when we receive the Word in the simplicity of faith we are regenerated “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). So then, the Spirit convicts, sanctifies, and regenerates through the Word, and more than that, the Spirit puts us into the body of Christ.
“By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Some time ago we were just so many units utterly uninterested in one another, but through grace we have been led not only to know that we are saved ourselves, but we have been brought into a blessed and hallowed unity with all fellow believers. We are members of that one body of which our Lord Jesus Christ is the Head. That is what it is to be established into Christ.
And then notice the next operation of the Spirit mentioned here: “And hath anointed us.” The anointing is for service and illumination. You remember in Old Testament times three kinds of people were anointed with oil: prophets, priests, and kings; and oil is the recognized type of the Holy Spirit. After His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power. When the Spirit of God descended upon Him in a special way, that was His anointing for His threefold office. He was Prophet on earth, He is Priest in heaven, and He will be King when He comes again, and this blessed ministry is all in the power of the Holy Spirit. Though our Lord Jesus Christ was God, yet as to His Manhood He chose to do all His works in the Spirit’s power, and so as believers we are anointed by the Spirit, and even the youngest believer has this anointing. You may have been converted only a day or two ago, but the Spirit of God now dwells in you as the anointing, and when you want instruction and power for service, look up to God that He by the Spirit may give you the instruction you need through the Word, and that He may empower you to serve Him.
In the next place we read, “Who hath also sealed us.” A seal speaks of ownership. The same Holy Spirit who regenerated us, who baptized us into the body of Christ, who is our anointing for service and our illumination, dwells within us as the seal that we belong to God. As I look at a group of people I cannot tell a Christian from one who is not converted, but as God looks down He sees every believer in whom the Holy Spirit dwells and says, “That is one of Mine,” and wherever the Holy Spirit is not dwelling in a person, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). The seal is the mark that we belong to Him, “After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). And again we are told in that same epistle to the Ephesians, “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (4:30). Notice two things: first, how clearly it brings out the personality of the Holy Spirit. You cannot grieve anything that is not personal. You can grieve those you love the most by bad behavior or coldness or indifference; and so, you may grieve the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit dwells in you to claim you for Christ, and if you are careless in your life as a believer, allowing worldliness or carnality or anything that is un-Christlike a place in your life, you are grieving the Holy Spirit of God. You might expect it to
go on, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, lest He leave you, lest you grieve Him away,” but it says, “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are
sealed unto the day of redemption. “This suggests the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit of God. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). When He is come, our Savior tells us, He shall “abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). The very reason you should not grieve Him is that He remains within you whether grieved or ungrieved, but if your behavior is such that you are grieving the Holy Spirit, you are going to be a very unhappy Christian. The happy Christian is the one living in the power of an ungrieved Spirit. It is absolutely impossible to live carelessly and be happy. The happy Christian is the holy Christian.
The apostle adds, in closing this passage, “And given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” The Holy Spirit dwelling within us is the earnest of that full blessing which we are to have at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him, and the more the Holy Spirit is given His right of way in our lives now, the more we are permitted to enjoy of that which shall be ours in all its fullness someday. And so we see that the filling of the Holy Spirit is connected with the earnest. “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). He lives within us, and everything that we enjoy of a spiritual nature we enjoy through the indwelling Holy Spirit. “But,” someone says, “I feel so limited at times; there is so much I ought to enter into, so much more God has for me that I do not seem to lay hold on.” Right here comes the admonition, “Be filled with the Spirit.”
Every believer has the Holy Spirit in him as the earnest. Someone says, “But you mean we need more of the Holy Spirit.” No, I do not mean that at all. The Holy Spirit is a Person, and He lives in you, and so I do not say you need more of the Holy Spirit, but I do say the Holy Spirit wants to possess more of you. That is the trouble with so many of us, we crowd the Spirit of God off into some one corner of our hearts. A great many of us live our lives almost in airtight compartments. The Holy Spirit can have His place in our religious lives, but what about the home life, the business life, the social life, and even the church life? We often live our lives in these compartments, and when at home we live one way, when at business another, in our social obligations another, and when we go to church another, and then we have our little time of spiritual devotion. There can be no happy, triumphant Christian life until all these partitions are broken down and your life comes entirely under the Spirit of God. Let Him have His way in everything, and there will be a life of victory and blessing. That is what it means to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The story is told of a young man who was ashamed of his childhood home and of his mother. He built a beautiful home and had a little place built in the attic for his mother and brought her there to live. But he kept the secret even from his wife as to who she was, until one day she found it out and said to him, “What is this? Your mother hidden away up there in the attic? I never dreamed who was up there.”
“Well, you know,” he said, “she has never had any education; she isn’t accustomed to our way of living, and so I thought it better that she should be hidden away up there.”
“No,” said the wife, “we will never treat her like that. Your mother is to come down from the attic, and is to have the run of the house and enjoy herself to the fullest degree.”
The Holy Spirit of God lives in you, believer. Is He hidden away in the attic of your life or has He the run of the house? Has your life been surrendered to Him? Are you yielded to His control?
You have seen how every operation of the Spirit of God is suggested. But somebody says, “What about the gifts of the Spirit?” He is not speaking here of gifts, but all the gifts are linked with the anointing of the Spirit, and so God has given various gifts to different believers, but it is all through the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God who fits us for any special service which the Lord may have for us.
Led In Christ’s Triumph
2 Corinthians 1:23—2:17
Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand. But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness. For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me? And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices. Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia. Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ. (1:23—2:17)
There are a number of verses in this portion of the Word, any one of which might furnish the theme for a lengthy address, but in giving these expositions I cannot pause on every important verse in the way I should like to do, but must occupy you rather with the general trend of the apostle’s words, the main thoughts that are emphasized. I want to confine myself largely to verses 14-16, where the saints are seen as led in Christ’s triumph. But to lead up to that and to connect with that which we have had previously, I will go over the intervening verses.
Some of the Corinthians had charged Paul with lightness, with insincerity, with carelessness, because he had intimated that he was going to visit them and then had refrained from doing so. They said, “Yes, he promises one thing and does another.” Now he explains more fully just why he did not visit them at an earlier date in accordance with his first intention. “I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.” After having made up his mind to visit them he had heard of their very disorderly conduct; they were going to law one with another, petty jealousies had come up among them, there was a sectarian spirit manifested, some were saying, “I am of Paul,” others, “I am of Apollos,” and still others, “I am of Christ,” as though Christ were the Head of a party instead of the Head of the whole church. And then there were very grievous things of a moral character among them. One had fallen into very marked sin, so much so that the name of God was blasphemed by the world outside because of the wickedness of this professing Christian, and Paul says, as it were, “If I came to you after learning these things I would have to come among you with a rod, simply to scold you, to speak sternly to you, and I could not do that. I loved you so tenderly that I preferred to stay away and write to you and pray for you, and to call upon God to enable you to judge these evil things. Now I am glad to find that you have judged them.”
He told them in the previous letter that they were to put away that wicked man who had fallen into licentiousness, who was guilty of the sin of fornication, for otherwise he would corrupt the whole fellowship. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). “If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). They were to refuse Christian fellowship to such an one, they were to put away from among them that wicked person. They had acted upon that, and because they had, he now feels differently toward them. He did not want to come until they obeyed his instructions—“But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness. For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?” That is, if when I came to you my time had to be devoted to bringing before you these corrupt things that have been permitted in your assembly, it would break my heart. You would be made sad and I would be sadder, so I stayed away and prayed and wrote to you. “I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.” In other words, he said, I had this confidence that if once these evil things were really brought to your attention, your Christian conscience would make you see the importance of dealing with them, you would not go on tolerating the wickedness. And that indeed had been true. “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.” It was no easy thing for Paul to bring these things to their attention, nor could he do it in a hard, legal way. They were his children in the faith, he loved them tenderly, and it grieved his spirit to find that they had turned aside to evil ways and were bringing dishonor on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. That should ever be the attitude of a true pastor in the church of God.
Now he comes to speak particularly of that wicked man who had fallen into the gross sin of immorality and had been put away from Christian fellowship. If every person guilty of immorality in the professed church could be dealt with and put away today, how much more power there would be in the assemblies of the saints. Of course there is always hidden sin that we cannot deal with, but when it comes to light God’s Word demands that it be dealt with and the wicked person put away. We might say, “Well, but if we excommunicate that man, we will drive him from Christian influence and he will get worse and worse.” God said, “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). Put him outside of the assembly of God, put him back in the world to which he belongs, because he is living according to the world’s standards, and leave him there until God brings him to repentance. Then restore him to fellowship.
“If any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment [this discipline], which was inflicted of many.” It was not Paul’s discipline. Paul had told them what to do, and they did it. The responsibility rests, not on the apostle, but on the church of God in a given place. And so the church had inflicted discipline on this man. Now the man is repentant, he proves by his repentance that though he had failed he was really a child of God after all. What will they do with him now? “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” If the Devil cannot get the church of God to overlook an outbreak of iniquity and to go on as though nothing had happened, he will seek to have them go to the other extreme. If discipline is inflicted upon a person and there is sincere repentance, then the Devil will try to harden the hearts of God’s people against him. They will say, “We cannot trust that man; he was in our fellowship once, and proved so bad we had to put him out, and we cannot trust him in the future.” No, no, the apostle says; you are not to act like that. That is just as wrong as it is to tolerate sin. It is wrong to keep him out when he repents, for what is the church of God after all but a company of repentant sinners? And what is heaven? It is a home for repentant sinners. No one will ever get into heaven but repentant sinners. I am speaking of adults for, of course, all the little ones are taken home to heaven. There “their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). The church of God is simply a gathering, not of people who have never failed, but of repentant sinners, and if a man repents, bring him back into fellowship. Perhaps he feels so defiled, so bad, that he will never ask for restoration. He will say, “I have disgraced the Lord, I am not fit for fellowship.” Do not wait for him to ask, go to him and confirm your love toward him. “For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. Ye were obedient when I said, “Put him away”; now let me see whether you are just as obedient when I say, “Bring him back as a repentant person.”
Then he says, “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ.” He had already forgiven this offender in his own heart. He says, “I have taken that attitude toward this repentant offender. Once I demanded that he be put away, now I forgive him as simply one with you in this act.” “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” His devices are, first, tolerate sin, and then if you won’t do that but you deal with sin in discipline, then never forgive. How often that spirit is manifested among Christians! There is not a great deal of discipline in the church of God today. A minister said to me one day, “One of our leading members is well known to be supporting a mistress in a hotel downtown, and breaking the heart of his wife and children, yet he is a leader in our church, a very wealthy man. If we were to bring him up for discipline it would split the church, and I do not know what we would do without his money.” I said, “Better split the church and go on with the godly part. God’s Word is clear, ‘Put away from among yourselves that wicked person’ (1 Cor. 5:13). Let him take his tainted money and go.” God does not want the money of a fornicator, of an adulterer, of a drunkard, of an extortioner, of a covetous man. He does not need such money. God has plenty of money to support His work. Satan says, “Be easy on him; we must not judge one another.” But God’s Word says that we ought to judge those that are within. When there is blatant sin we are to deal with it. The one side is, put him away. But when he repents and says, “Brethren, I have sinned, but by the grace of God I have turned from my sin; will you restore me to your love and confidence?” what are we to do then? You ought now to forgive. Perhaps he will get so thoroughly under the power of remorse that he will just break completely and say, “I will never be able to retrieve myself. The people of God will never have confidence in me again. V/hat difference does it make what I do?” Show him now that you can forgive as well as discipline. “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us.”
“Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord.” He had been very near to them; he was at Troas, which is just across the water, and he would have liked to go ahead with the wonderful opportunity for service which came to him, but he was so restless thinking about their difficulties that he could not remain. “I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.” But no matter what circumstances he is called upon to pass through he says, “Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place.” Or, it may be rendered, “Thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in Christ’s triumph.” This is a very lovely picture. As Christ’s servants we are continually being led in His triumph. What does he mean by that? It is not merely that Christ always makes us victors, but whatever circumstances the people of God may be called upon to pass through we are always led in Christ’s triumph. It is a striking figure of speech, a wonderful picture that he puts before us.
When a Roman general had been out into some distant land to put down an uprising, or to win new lands for the Roman empire, to defeat great armies, the senate frequently voted him “a triumph.” When he and his army returned to Rome a public holiday was declared, and all the people thronged to the main thoroughfare to see this general enter in triumph. Here is a long line of captives, representatives of the people he has subjugated. They are in chains, and are holding censers in their hands, and sweet, fragrant incense arises. Then comes the general, and behind him another long line of captives bearing censers. These in front are to be set at liberty, and the fragrant incense is the odor of life to them. Those behind are condemned to die, and are going on to the arena; they are to be thrown to the wild beasts or put to death in some other way, and the fragrant incense that arises from their censers is a savor of death. The general marches on in triumph. There are some with a savor of life, there are others with a savor of death. The apostle says, as it were, Christ, our great Redeemer, has won a mighty victory over all the powers of hell. He has led captivity captive and given gifts unto men. He has annulled him that had the power of death, and God has voted Him a triumph; and now Christ is marching triumphantly through the universe, and He is leading us in His triumph, and we who are His captives by grace are a sweet savor unto life, but even men who refuse His grace must glorify God in their judgment, and they are a sweet savor, but unto death. So he says, “Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” As we march on with Christ proclaiming His gospel, that gospel is to God a sweet savor, whether men believe it or refuse to believe it. But to all who believe it, it is a sweet savor of life; to all who refuse to believe it, it is a savor of death, but its fragrance is just as precious to God whether believed or refused.
“Who is sufficient for these things?” Let me put it this way: I stand up and try to preach, I attempt to give the gospel of the grace of God knowing my message is to have a double effect, some people are going to believe it, and it will add to their joy for all eternity. Some people are going to refuse it, and it will make it worse for them than if they had never heard it at all. I may say, “My God, I would rather not preach than make it worse for men in eternity.” But God says, “Go on and preach My Word; it is your business to give it out whether they receive it or reject it. The responsibility is theirs.” “Who is sufficient for these things?” “Our sufficiency is of God” (3:5).
“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” That word
corrupt is a Greek word used for small trading, and suggests the thought of what we call, “grafting.” We are not of those who huckster the Word of God; in other words, we are not of those who are giving out the Word of God for the money we can get out of it, we are not selling the Word of God; we are seeking to minister God’s truth for the blessing of His people and the salvation of souls. What a wonderful thing to be led in Christ’s triumph! He went down into death, He came up in triumph, having spoiled principalities and powers. He has made a show of them, triumphing over them, and we are linked with Him who says, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:18).
The Epistle Of Christ
2 Corinthians 3:1-6
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. (vv. 1-6)
The first two chapters, which we have already considered, have been largely occupied with the experiences, the trials, and the victories of the apostle Paul and his companions, while they were engaged in the marvelous ministry committed to them of going out into a world of sin to preach the gospel of the grace of God. And now in this third chapter the apostle develops for us in a very striking way the nature of the ministry committed to them, the ministry of the new covenant. He deals in the first place with the epistle of Christ. Notice how he introduces it.
“Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?” What does he mean? Why does he use language like this? As we have noticed on other occasions, one of the greatest trials that the apostle Paul had to meet as he went around in his ministry was the opposition of false brethren, men who professed to be Christians, but who in reality were Jewish legalists who had never apprehended the freeness and the liberty of the gospel, and they were continually dogging his steps. He would scarcely have left a place before they would come in and endeavor to discredit the message by discrediting the messenger. One of their ruses was to call in question his apostleship. For instance, they might put it like this to these Gentile Christians: “Paul! Why, he is no true apostle! The apostles were those who were educated by the Lord Jesus Christ when He was here in the flesh, they had their schooling under His own personal instruction. They kept company with Him for three-and-a-half years, and then after He died and ascended to heaven it was they who went forth with authority to proclaim the message of the new covenant. Paul was not one of them, he did not even know Christ when He was here on earth. More than that, he has no commission from the apostolic college at Jerusalem. Challenge him and see. He will tell you he has received no authority from Peter or James or John or any of the rest, authorizing him to go forth on this mission. He simply is a freelance, and you need to be a bit careful of these freelances; you never can tell just what they have up their sleeves. For instance, when Paul visited you did he have a letter of commendation? Did he have a letter from the church at Jerusalem or from one of the other churches, showing that he was in good standing in the place from which he came?”
Paul had been in Corinth for a year-and-a-half, and his life had been as an open book. They had seen for themselves the kind of life that he lived, and knew how genuine his profession was. Now he is away from them and is anticipating visiting them again, and some of these Judaizers have I said, “If I were you, before giving him the platform I would at least take the precaution of asking him for his letter, and see whether he has a letter of commendation.” It is perfectly right and proper, you know, to carry letters. When Apollos, a total stranger, was going from Ephesus to Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila gave him a letter commending, or recommending, him to the confidence of the brethren in Corinth, and as Christians moved from place to place it was right that they should carry a letter, but think of demanding anything like that from the apostle Paul! Why, he says, “Do we then have to accredit ourselves with
you, you among whom we have labored for a year-and-a-half, you whom we have led to Christ? Is it necessary that now we should have some kind of a letter of commendation? Do we need a letter of commendation to you, or do we need one from you? Is it necessary that we should be commended by you to other people? The fact of the matter is, if it is a letter that is wanted, you yourselves constitute our letter. ‘Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.’ If people want to know whether we are genuine or not, they can look at you. Who were you when we came to you? You were poor ungodly heathen, lost in sin, in bondage to iniquity of the very vilest kind, and what are you now? Redeemed men and women who have been brought into the joy and gladness of a new life through the message that we imparted to you. Is not that letter enough? Does that not prove that we are divinely sent? Is not that the Holy Spirit’s own
imprimatur, as it were, put upon our message. ‘Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us.’ Through you God is showing what Christ is able to do for sinners who trust Him. We, of course, were the instruments.” “Ministered by us, written not with ink, but the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” God, then, is manifesting Himself to the world through His church.
In Old Testament times we do not have a message going out to the world as such. God revealed Himself to Israel on Mount Sinai, and gave them His message on tables of stone. Stone, you know, is very hard, very cold, and very unyielding, like the message of the Law itself, but that message was never sent out to the Gentile world. Judaism was not a missionary religion. You never hear of the representatives of Judaism going out into all the world to proclaim the glories of the Old Covenant. Not at all. God had not yet come out to man; He was still dwelling in the thick darkness. The veil was unrent, and God was testing man through one particular nation, the nation of Israel, the very best group He could find. “What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). If the very best people cannot keep the law, there is no use carrying it to the ungodly Gentiles, and so Judaism had no missionary message. Things have changed now. God has come out to men, the veil is rent, the light is shining out, and the message from the risen Christ is, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). And wherever that message is carried, men read its power in the changed lives of those who believe it. That is what the apostle means when he says that we are the epistle of Christ.
I sometimes hear people pray, “O Lord, help us all to be epistles of Christ.” You never get it that way in Scripture. It does not say that you are an epistle of Christ and I am an epistle of Christ. It takes the whole church to make His epistle, but each one of us is one little verse in that epistle. I should hate to have anyone judge Christ simply by me. I hope there is a little of the grace of God seen in my poor life, but take the church of God as a whole and see what a wonderful letter you have. What a marvelous epistle is God’s church telling the world what the grace of God can do for sinners who trust in Him. And it is such a vital thing, such a tender thing, “written not with ink,” but by “the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” God gives to believers in the gospel a new heart, a new nature, a heart made tender by divine grace, in order that men may go out and manifest the love of Christ to a lost world. The apostle says this gives us confidence, “Such trust have we through Christ to God-ward.” If it were not that we could see the change in the life of a man through believing our message we would lose confidence, but when we see His grace working in this miraculous way, then we have trust toward God that we are indeed His chosen servants sent to make known the exceeding riches of His grace.
The epistle to the Philippians gives us a beautiful hint of the way men read the truths of God in the church of God. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). I am not to work out my own salvation in my own power but, you see, “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Phil. 2:13-16). Men, we often say, will not read their Bibles, and we are called upon to live Christ so that as they read us they will see that there is reality in the gospel and the message we preach, because of the change that has come in our lives.
I wish we might test ourselves along that line. Is my life really witnessing for Christ? Is it really counting for God? Do the members of my own family see that God has control of me? Do they see something of the patience of Christ, the meekness of Christ, the purity of Christ, something of the love of Christ, the tender compassion of Christ, in me? Am I manifesting these things? As I go out in the world, as I mingle with others in business, in my daily employment, or whatever it may be with which I am occupied, do those with whom I have to do most intimately see any difference between me and those who do not make the profession that I make? Do they say, “Well, So-and-So may be a Christian; if he is I do not think much of Christianity?” Or are we so living Christ that others looking upon us say, “Well, if that is Christianity, I wish I knew something of it in my own soul”? I have heard people give testimony like that at times, I have had them come to me and say, “I have met one of your people, or, I work with him, and there is something about him that appeals to me; I cannot help but believe in the reality of the message you preach because of the effect it has on the people who believe it.” That is what Paul means when he says that we are the epistle of Christ.
We are Christ’s letter. What is a letter for? It is to express one’s mind. And what are some of the important things in a letter? First, legibility. You want to be able to read it. If you and I constitute the epistle of Christ the letter should be a legible one, one easily read. People ought not to have to puzzle their heads over it and say, “Well, I don’t know, I really cannot understand that. It may be Christianity, but it does not seem so to me.” And then a letter should contain clear, definite statements. Clearness of meaning characterizes a well-written letter. You do not like to get a letter and go through it all and say, “I can read it, but for the life of me I cannot understand what he means.” You and I are called upon to so clearly set forth the grace that is in Christ that people will not have to puzzle over it, but that they will be able to say, “Oh, now I understand; I see what Jesus does for the soul that trusts Him. If that is Christianity, I should like to know the same blessed life myself.” And then, you know, a real letter reveals the personality of the one who writes it. Somebody has said that we have almost lost the art of letter-writing nowadays. Everything is so standardized that our letters do not reveal our personality at all. Take some of the volumes of old-fashioned letters, what a delight it is to take from the bookshelf some of Carlyle’s or Browning’s letters, and others of the great men of the past. How marvelously they reveal the personality, the mentality of the soul, the spirit of those men. The church is the epistle of Christ, and the church is expected to reveal to men the personality, the loveliness, the beauty, the preciousness of Jesus. Oh, to have men say, “I did not know Christ until I saw So-and-So, and then I said to myself, ‘Jesus must be a wonderful Savior, for I have seen a little of what He is, revealed in this or that man or woman.’” That is what it means to be an epistle of Christ, to be manifesting Him.
And so the apostle says, it is not that we can do this in ourselves, that we are sufficient of ourselves—“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” Let us never get away from that. Christianity is a supernatural thing. I am persuaded that one of the greatest mistakes that thousands of people make is to imagine that Christianity is simply a natural thing, a natural life lived on a higher plane than the ordinary life. A man may say, “I think perhaps I have been too selfish, too worldly; I am going to start in and lead a Christian life; I am going to be a Christian, and so am going to join the church, be baptized, take the sacrament, read the Scriptures, and have family prayer.” You can do all of those things outwardly, and yet not be a Christian at all. Christianity is not the natural life lived on a higher plane. It is a divine life manifested in the energy of the Holy Spirit. That is why men need to be born again. That is an old-fashioned theme, but we cannot emphasize it too much. The Lord Jesus Christ said to Nicodemus, a very good man, a very religious man, “Except a man be born [again], he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The natural man can manifest only what is in his natural heart; there must be a second birth. I ask you, in the name of my Master, have you ever known that great change which the Bible calls the new birth? If not, you have never taken the very first step in the Christian life. You cannot live a Christian life until you have a Christian life to live. You must receive the life before you can manifest it. “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” If you are saying, “I have heard a good deal about that, but my perplexity is that I do not know how I may be born again,” let me give you two or three passages from God’s Holy Word, and may His divine Spirit wing them home in power. John 1:11: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” How do you receive Him? You receive Him into your heart, open your heart to Him, and let Him come in. John 1:12-13: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Here are three ways by which people do
not become Christians, and only one way by which they do. “Not of blood.” You are not born a Christian because your parents were Christians; the grace of God is not transmitted by natural generation. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). In the second place, “Nor of the will of man.” There is no man so great, so good, that he can make another person into a Christian. We believe in Christian baptism, but he makes a tremendous mistake who supposes that any man can become a Christian through submission to the ordinance of baptism, or that any minister can make another man a Christian by baptism, or by giving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In the third place, “Not by his own will.” No man can will himself into becoming a Christian. No man can become a Christian by saying, “I have made up my mind, and from now on I am no longer a sinner, I am a Christian.” That will no more make him a Christian than a man, who by birth is an American but has become infatuated with the Russian system, can change his nationality by saying, “From now on I am no longer an American, I have decided to be a Russian.” You are what you were born, and we were born sinners, and have to be born again in order to become Christians, and so the verse says, “Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” There is just one way by which we become Christians, by receiving Christ. Then we are born again. The apostle Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever…And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25). When you believe the gospel, when you accept the message that God has given, when you accept the Savior whom God has sent, then you are born of God, and you become part of this great company designated, “the epistle of Christ.” And the same God through whose mighty power we are born again is the One who sends His servants forth to minister His gospel in divine energy.
The apostle concludes this section in verse 6 by saying, “Who also hath made us able ministers [he is not dwelling on his own ability, but the Spirit of God working in and through him has enabled him to minister in power] of the new testament [we do not belong to the old covenant, we are through with that, we are enjoying the spiritual blessings of the new covenant. The word for ‘testament’ and ‘covenant’ is exactly the same]; not of the letter, but of the spirit.” Do not misunderstand that. When he says “not of the letter,” he does not mean not of the letter of the Word of God. They tell us that we take the Bible too literally, and ask us whether we do not know that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” That is what he says here, but by
letter he does not mean the literal Word. You cannot be too literal in reading your Bible. God could have given it in another way if He meant us to have it that way, but He wants us to take it as it is. What is meant here? “The letter” refers to that which was engraven on the tables of stone, and therefore “the letter” is the law. But now you have the new message, the message of the New Testament, in the energy of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Paul says, “We are not law preachers, we do not go to men and say, you must give up your meanness, you must be obedient to the law,” but we say, “What you cannot do yourselves God is able to do for you by the energizing power of His Holy Spirit.”
If you will open your heart to Christ, He will give you a new life, and put a new power in you. He will enable you to live Christ, to be a part of the epistle of Christ. The letter, the law, could only kill, could only condemn. It is called in the verses that follow “the ministration of death,” but the gospel of God’s grace preached in the power of the Spirit gives life to all who believe.