Book traversal links for 2 Corinthians (Lectures 16-22)
2 Corinthians 9:1-15
For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: for I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting. Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness. But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (as it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. (vv. 1-15)
In this chapter the Spirit of God brings before us in a very impressive manner our responsibility, as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, to give of our means both for the support of the Lord’s work and in order to meet the necessities of Christians who are in distressing circumstances.
It was given to our Lord Jesus to enjoy in a way peculiarly rich and full the happiness of giving. He through whom all things came into being, and for whom they all exist, came into this lower part of His creation, not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. The apostle Paul, in addressing the Ephesian elders, calls upon them to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This naturally raises the question when, and under what circumstances, did He so speak? And at first perhaps one is surprised to find that the four Gospels will be searched in vain to locate any such expression. In other words, the inspired records of the life and sayings of our blessed Lord do not tell us that He used these words on any occasion. And yet the apostle quotes them as though they were well known, as undoubtedly they were, and had frequently been used by the Savior in the days of His flesh. In fact the tense of the original suggests frequent repetition, and we might render the passage as follows: “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He was wont to say, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” That is, it was customary with Him to so speak. He used the words so frequently that His inspired biographers did not even find it necessary to quote them, but wherever His disciples went—those who had known Him on earth—they carried with them this little bit of personal recollection; and so the story went every where in the early church, that it was a frequent thing for the Lord to use the words Paul referred to.
What light this throws upon His character, and how it emphasizes the deep-toned joy He found in imparting good to others. “More blessed” is really “happier”; so that we are justified in reading, “It is happier to give than to receive.” He never gave grudgingly. To Him it was a joy to share with those in need. He delighted in communicating the riches of His grace to poverty-stricken, bankrupt souls. Doubtless, often as He fed the multitudes, healed the sick, or ministered in some other way to human need, He would turn to the disciples nearest Him and say quietly and with a sense of deep satisfaction, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The Holy Spirit would have us take His example and His words to heart. We are naturally so self-centered that we are inclined to believe the greatest happiness is found in receiving rather than in giving. We all enjoy receiving gifts. We delight in receiving praise, love, and adulation. We sometimes imagine that if everything that our hearts crave could be poured out upon us, we would be supremely happy. But this is a total mistake. The happiest people in the world are those who give most unselfishly; and herein lies the challenge to Christians everywhere to whom God has entrusted the means of furthering His interests in the world by financial gifts. Those who go forth for the name’s sake of the Lord Jesus, leaving home and loved ones, leaving too all opportunity of earning a livelihood and accumulating wealth, should be in a very special way objects of interest to those who would enjoy the blessedness of which the Lord Jesus speaks. In 3 John, we note the commendation of the aged apostle to the Elder Gaius. He writes, “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth” (3 John 5-8). Undoubtedly the reference was primarily to traveling preachers of the gospel, those whom we call missionaries. Unable to provide for themselves, they were cast entirely upon the Lord, and He on His part met their needs through the gracious gifts of faithful Christians in the home churches, who found real joy in this delightful fellowship. Shall we not ask ourselves to what extent we have entered into the mind of Christ in regard to this gracious ministry? Are we too experiencing the joy that comes through giving as enabled by God, in order that His servants may be maintained in the path of usefulness in lands far away where they know little of Christian fellowship, but often experience much in the way of testing and hardship? We need never fear that as we open our hearts and purses to them, we ourselves will be permitted to suffer, for we can be certain that God will be no man’s debtor.
It never was loving that emptied a heart,
Or giving that emptied a purse.
And we may recall John Bunyan’s lines in the immortal allegory:
A man there was, though some did count him mad,
The more he cast away, the more he had.
For after all, this is but to say in another manner what God Himself has already told us in His own Holy Word, “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”
With these thoughts in mind, let us notice how earnestly the apostle Paul stresses the importance of this ministry of giving. He says in verses 1-2: “For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: for I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many.” You see, a year before they had pledged themselves to give for this fund that Paul was raising, and now he is asking them to fulfill the pledges. “Yet I have sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting.” You get the point; do you not? He had gone through the churches of Macedonia urging them to have part in this bounty they were raising for the poor saints in Palestine, and he told them that those in Corinth had already pledged themselves to do something generous, but there had been no cash money, and so he was coming through their district on his way to Jerusalem and he did not want them to make him ashamed. He did not wish to urge and beg them to fulfill their promise, but he desired to show the Macedonian brethren how prompt they were to pay. “Therefore,” he says, “I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness.” That last expression appears to be a little difficult. The word for “covetousness” might just as truly be translated “extortion.” He would have the visiting brethren gather up this sum when they reached Corinth, so that it might not seem as if he had to come to them as a tax-collector, trying to force them to give what they had already promised. He wanted it to be glad, joyous giving, the kind that would glorify the Lord.
“He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” And so he uses a common truism to illustrate a great spiritual reality. Think of a farmer so foolish, as he goes forth to sow his wheat, as to say, “It is too bad to sow so much to an acre; I think I can get a fair crop by sowing less.” Such conduct would be absurd. So it is with us. If we want God’s blessing on our work, if we want Him to visit us with power and to be generous with us, we must care for the needs of others. There is an old proverb that has been used so long that it is shiny at the knees and frayed at the edges. It is this: “Charity begins at home.” People say you must think of home first, and then if you have anything left, give to others or to foreign missions. Giving to missions is not charity. It is not almsgiving when I contribute of my means in order to carry the gospel to a dying world. It is for this purpose God has left us here in this scene. We make a great mistake in talking about home missions and foreign missions. This world is a foreign land to which our blessed Lord came, and from over yonder He sends us forth to go to all nations to carry this gospel to the very ends of the earth. We want to multiply our efforts a thousandfold by backing up those who go into the regions beyond. Paul, of course, was referring specially to caring for the poor, but the same principle applies to both.
Now notice the state of the heart that God takes into account when it comes to giving. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart.” Someone says he does not believe in making a pledge. What is a pledge? It is the expression of the purpose of your heart. The apostle says, writing by the Spirit of God, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give.” Purpose in your heart, then give; “not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” You say, “Well, I presume they will think it strange if I do not give anything. So I suppose I had better give a little.” Do not give so—“not grudgingly.” He does not want one penny from you if you had rather keep it yourself. God does not want your money if you give it grudgingly or of necessity. “Well,” you say, “I think I ought to give. I suppose God holds me responsible and I will have to give.” No, no, “not of necessity.” God gave freely, gladly. And He does not want anything from you unless you also give willingly and gladly; unless you are thankful to be able to give. “For God loveth a cheerful giver.” The word in the Greek is
hilaron, and may be translated “hilarious.” God loves a hilarious giver. Not a giver who says, “Dear me, they are always needing money.” But one who says, “What is that? Another opportunity to give to missions! Another chance to help the needy! Well, bless the Lord! What can I give? Yes, I think I can double that.” That is a hilarious giver, a cheerful giver.
And the Lord will never be your debtor if you give like that. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” You see, you take the right attitude toward God and His Word, and He will take a wonderfully benevolent attitude toward you. Then Paul quotes from Psalm 112, “He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor; his righteousness remaineth for ever.” In that psalm God is depicting the typically righteous man. One characteristic is, he is interested in other people. He disperses abroad. He gives to the poor. Righteousness, you know, means consistency with the relationship in which we stand. Now, how can we act consistently if we are neglectful of our attitude toward those in distress and toward the servants of Christ?
“Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness.” God knows you need these things and He will look after you. Righteousness and liberality go together. “Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God.” It begins with God and ends with God. God is able to make all grace abound toward you as you give of your substance to Him. You give to sustain His servants in distant fields. They are blessed and return thanks to God, and that blessing comes back to you. All the rivers run into the sea; the moisture is caught up from the sea into the clouds; the water comes down on the land from the clouds, and the rivers carry it to the sea again, and so there is a never-failing circle of blessing.
“Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men.” Notice, it is “your professed subjection unto the gospel.” It is one thing to say we believe the gospel, but if we say we believe it is the only way for sinful men to come to God, surely we will try to get the gospel out to men.
“And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” This Gift is Christ Himself, and He is absolutely beyond all our powers to properly appreciate.
Paul Vindicates His Apostleship
2 Corinthians 10:1-18
Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you: but I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled. Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s. For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: that I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present. For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand. But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth. (vv. 1-18)
What a very practical portion of the Word of God this is, and how grateful we can be for some of the unpleasant experiences that came to the apostle Paul, because of the lessons that we may glean from his attitude regarding them. He had ministered, as we have seen, for a long time in this famous Greek city. For a year and six months he had worked and prayed and toiled, laboring with his own hands to support himself and those associated with him, while he preached publicly and from house to house, striving to reach lost sinners and bring them to Christ, and once they were saved, to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. He had seen the work grow and develop in a marvelous way. He had seen men of marked ability come in among them who could build them up, and then, as a true missionary, he had left them and moved on to other fields, that he might still carry the gospel to those who had not heard it. And now having been away from them, he had learned of a preconcerted movement among certain enemies of the gospel of the grace of God to try to turn his own converts away from confidence in him as an inspired and duly authorized apostle, in order that thereby they might weaken the faith of those converts in the glorious declaration of the grace of God which he had proclaimed. Paul here had to insist very strongly upon the authority that had been given him. He had to defend his apostleship, to magnify his office. And though it was the very last thing he delighted to do, he had to call attention to the work that God had wrought through him and show that he was truly a sent-one of Christ. They had seen a lowly tentmaker, his hands often begrimed with toil. They had seen him put away his rough garments to get ready for a preaching service, and go down to the meeting place to minister Christ after his working hours.
They had seen a common workingman, and now they used this against him. “Why,” they said, “he is not an apostle, a man who exists in the lowly way he lives. How ordinary, how commonplace, his calling is from day to day! Do you call
him an apostle? Do others of the apostles of Jesus Christ have to work as he does, with their own hands?” And so they despised him the more because of his very humility. He replies, “I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” What did they think of Christ? He was a carpenter and used the saw, the hammer, and the adze in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth, and took the lowest place here on earth that He might exalt us to the highest. Well, by His meekness, by His gentleness, I “who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you:…I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.” You see, he had to write them a very strong letter in order to point out and reprove serious things that were being done in the church at Corinth. There was party strife there and, among other things, they were setting one servant of God against another. Some were saying, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas,” and others were declaring, “We alone are of Christ.” And Paul had to rebuke all that and rebuke it sternly. And then there were brethren going to law one with another, and there were other things that had to be dealt with, and so his letters were sharp and strong. But now he has to deal with those who are his detractors. They were saying, “It is all right, he can sit down in the privacy of his own study and write boldly, but if he had to meet you face to face, he would not dare to talk like that.” And Paul says, as it were, “I hope there will not be any occasion for it. I write you a letter rather than to come to see you, because I do not want to have to say these stern things to you: I love you too tenderly to wish to hurt you. I thought I might help you with my letters, but if you do not respond to them I will have to tell you face to face what I mean, and show that we have divine authority backing up everything we have to say.”
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.” We are in the flesh, it cannot be otherwise, but, he says, we do not war according to the flesh. We are not men who, as servants of Christ, are actuated by mere fleshly motives. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” We do not behave in a fleshly way, but our weapons, which are those given us by the Holy Spirit of God, are “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” What an ideal that is for the servant of God! The minister of Christ is not sent to preach eloquent sermons with beautiful resounding platitudes, but to give men the truth of God; and the effect of this truth upon the conscience is intended to bring every thought into subjection to the obedience of Christ, that all human reasoning may come to an end when God speaks, and that there may be absolute subjection to His will. If you are not ready to obey the Word of God, then I have to be in readiness to revenge every disobedience, he says.
Next he warns them against looking on the outward appearance. I judge Paul’s physical appearance was not that of a great statesman or a great leader. The Greeks particularly admired splendid physique, as we may see from the many magnificent statues they have left behind. But Paul was probably a very small man. The name
Paul means “little one,” and people naturally received names in those days that intimated what they were. His outward appearance was weak and his speech contemptible. It may be there was a hesitancy in his speech, caused possibly when he was stoned at Lystra, and perhaps he could not speak with freedom or fluency. So they despised him because of physical infirmities. But that little man, though physically weak, was filled with the power of the Spirit of God, and through that power had done wonderful things for Christ, and so he could say, “If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s.” In other words, “I am not much to look at, but I belong to Christ just as much as the fine-looking teachers with heroic figures. I am His servant, and He uses me in spite of my physical infirmity. It is He Himself who has given me direct authority.” “Though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction.” He would not claim authority in order to avenge himself of them, but his authority was for their blessing. In obedience to Him he had brought them the gospel, and now he desired to build them up in Christ. “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak.” “Well,” he says, “wait until I get there, and see.” I think there is a little bit of grim humor here. I think the apostle rather smiled as he wrote the next verse: “Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present.” We dare not compare ourselves with others, saying, “Well, I can do it better than someone else.” Paul says, “No, that is not it. It is not a question merely whether I am able to preach better than others or not. We are all Christ’s servants.” “We dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not [intelligent].” It is a very foolish thing to compare or contrast ourselves with others. To every man his work. Every servant of God has some special gift. Whitefield said, “Other men may preach the gospel better than I can, but no man can preach a better gospel.”
But now the apostle says, “I have had one definite aim and nothing is going to turn me aside from that.” “We will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.”
Rule might be translated “canon.” Canon law is the law or rule by which churches are governed. Paul seems to say, “This is the canon that God has given me, a measure to reach even unto you, and that is, that we should preach the gospel in the regions beyond.” He says, “My rule as a missionary is not to be occupied so much with churches already established, and certainly not to go where other men have labored, and then add my little to it. I do not want to build on another man’s foundation. But my business is to preach the gospel where Christ is not named.” It is not wrong to build on other men’s foundations. I stand here today, and what am I doing? Well, the best I can do is to build on other men’s foundations. But Paul recognizes that. He says, “I have laid the foundation, and another [man] buildeth thereon.” But he declares, “My rule is not to build on other men’s foundations.” He was a foundation layer. He went from country to country, from city to city, from village to village, carrying the gospel of the grace of God. He sought to lead souls out of darkness, who had never heard the message of light before. Then he would gather them together by the Spirit’s power into little groups. We hear that word
indigenous used so much these days, referring to missionary work. The natives are encouraged to establish “indigenous churches.” This was Paul’s mode of operation. He had preached at Corinth, and away he went. Other men could come now and build them up, but he must carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. What a missionary Paul was! He was a pattern foreign missionary for our entire age. There have been many since then who have gone forth in the same spirit that actuated him. This is the business of the church, and if we cannot all go, we can help those to go who are free to do it, and we can pray and give that they may work on unhindered by want. We are not, says Paul, “to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand. But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” Whether one is building on another man’s foundation or seeking to tell men and women in distant lands of Christ, it is all the same: “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” Here, then, is the ideal missionary as exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul. May we all in some measure at least enter into it. How wonderfully Paul sought to follow his Master. He said, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” Christ came from the heights of glory down into the depths of sin and woe, and He trod the path of humiliation and shame, and at last went to the cross and there gave His life for the redemption of guilty men. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.”
Espoused To Christ
2 Corinthians 11:1-15
Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been thoroughly made manifest among you in all things. Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (vv. 1-15)
There is nothing to stir the heart to worship like contemplation of the Word of God. Satan has done his best to rob us of this treasure, but we can thank God that it has been preserved to us all down through the ages. God’s Word is like Himself, it is perfect. We read, “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6).
Now the special verses I want to reread are 2-3: “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
We have often heard the saying, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” and we need to remember that in these days, when there are so many different forces seeking to destroy our liberty here in America, when Communism is proposing license instead of liberty, and when others would propose a kind of a dictatorship instead of liberty, we ought to be very grateful to God for the privileges we have enjoyed, and as a people we should be watchful and careful lest our liberties be fritted away. But it is just as true that eternal vigilance is the price we must pay for maintaining the truth of God. There are many evil forces at work seeking to turn the Christian away from the revelation that God has given in His Word. We need not be surprised at this, for it has always been so. Just as soon as God began to work in any dispensation, Satan, the adversary, attempted to discredit the truth divinely revealed. In the former dispensation the conflict was between the revelation given through prophets and priests at Sinai and through God’s servants throughout the centuries on the one hand, and idolatry of all kinds on the other. All through the Christian dispensation the conflict has been between a pure, clear, gospel testimony and the different substitutes that the adversary of our souls has presented to men, to turn them away from the simplicity that is in Christ. The apostle Paul had to meet this. We have already seen in these Corinthian letters how his steps were dogged by those who sought to turn his converts away from the message that he brought to them of salvation by grace alone, to something that would obscure the preciousness of that grace. Now in this chapter Paul is obliged to stoop to something that is very distasteful to him, because of the false accusations which were being made to destroy the confidence of the saints in their teacher, in order that they might refuse the teaching. If the Devil cannot induce people immediately to give up some line of truth, then he will attack those whom God has sent forth to defend that truth. He tried to make Paul’s converts lose confidence in their teacher, in his spirituality, in his understanding of the truth, in order to discredit his ministry. These men who wickedly opposed Paul’s work ridiculed him and made the most unkind remarks, even in regard to his personal appearance and ability. They charged that he was not fit to be a leader of God’s people, that he was not an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ because he was not one of the original twelve, that he had not received his commission from Christ because it did not come through the twelve. They put him down as a freelance. They would have the people believe he was actuated by selfish motives, that he was endeavoring to make a gain of those to whom he ministered. He indignantly refuted such charges. He disliked doing this; he did not enjoy having to defend himself. The man of God would be content to simply go on preaching the Word of God and never mention himself, but here it became necessary. The Corinthians were losing confidence in their teacher, and if they lost confidence in him, they would lose confidence also in that glorious message which he had been appointed to carry through the world. He speaks of his defense as foolishness. He would rather speak of Christ. The reason he gives is, “I am jealous [for] you with godly jealousy.” There
is a jealousy that is condemnable, the jealousy that one teacher might have of another. Servants of Christ become jealous of each other, and those who help in the Lord’s work become jealous of each other, and Sunday school teachers become jealous of each other. All such jealousy is opposed to the Holy Spirit of God. But there is a jealousy that is pure, that is clean, that is right, and it is the kind of jealousy that God Himself cherishes. He says, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.” What does He mean? What does Paul mean? He means that he cannot bear to see his brethren turn from God to false gods because he knows that it is to their eternal ruin if they do. His jealousy is not because of self-love, but because of his love for them. What would you think of a husband who says of his wife, “I have absolutely no jealousy when she is petted by another man?” There is a jealousy, you see, that is right, and a true, upright husband wants his wife to be faithful to him, as he feels himself responsible to be true and faithful to her. And so our God desires to see His people true to Him and walking apart from the fellowship of the world. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God.”
Paul says to these Corinthians, “I am jealous over you.” He did not want to see them drifting away, turning aside, following things that could not profit, and he did not want them to lose the preciousness of their first love. He wished to see them ever true to Christ. His was a godly jealousy, a jealousy like the jealousy of God. “For I have espoused you to one husband.” They were, as an assembly of God, like an engaged maiden. They had been espoused to one husband, even Christ. The marriage supper and the Lamb were yonder in the glory and they were waiting for His return. Christ is the espoused husband of the church. He died for us, and we belong to Him, and our hearts must be true to Him. Paul did not want to see them become errant and unfaithful. He wished to be able to say at the judgment seat of Christ, “Blessed Master, here are those whom I won for Thee, and their hearts have been true to Thee, and now they are here to be eternally united with Thee in the glory.” He was afraid that this might not be. There were agencies at work seeking to hinder this. So he says, “I am afraid lest by any means Satan should beguile you through subtlety.” That is how the Devil works. Satan never says, “Good morning, I am the Devil! I want to mislead you, I want to seduce you, I want to turn your heart away from God, I want to ruin you for time and eternity.” No, he comes with the fairest pretences and promises, and he endeavors to turn the heart away from Christ by deception. He deceived Eve. He has been deceiving mankind all down through the centuries. “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Do you know this? God’s truth is always manifested right on the very surface of His Word. Wherever people have to enter into a long course of argument in order to support a system which they are trying to foist on the saints, it is not the truth of God. Anything not characterized by a holy simplicity is not God’s testimony. And so, young saint, test every teaching by searching the Word, and if you do not find it plainly revealed in the Book, reject all unscriptural reasoning, no matter how learned may be the man who does the reasoning.
And Paul says to these Corinthians, “If these men really came to bring you something better, you might well listen to them.” They came to drag them down to a lower level, to turn their hearts away from Christ and to offer them a substitute, not one which was greater or better or more satisfactory than Christ, but a legal system which could only occupy them with self and fancied human merit. “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” If one came to you and said, “I have found one better than Christ, better than Jesus,” well, if he really has, you might well bear with him. But you will never find anyone better than Jesus. Jesus is God’s last word to sinners and His last word to saints. I picked up a theological book the other day in which the writer said, “The time has come when we need a new investigation of the problem of Jesus Christ.” Why, my dear friends, Christ is not a problem! Jesus Christ is the solution of every problem; He is the One who makes everything plain and everything clear; the One “in [whom] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Paul says, if one substitutes anything for Christ, turn a deaf ear to him. He says, if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, if anyone can tell you of any spirit greater, mightier or higher than the Holy Spirit of God, who dwells in every believer, then you might well go after him. But you will never find another, for the Holy Spirit is God Himself as truly as the Father is God, and the Son is God. Many spirits are abroad in the world who seek to impose upon men, but the Spirit of God, who dwells in the believer, is the Spirit who delights to glorify the Lord Jesus.
Then he adds, “If one come with any other gospel than that which you have received, you might bear with him.” But there is only one gospel. That gospel takes on different phases at different times. It is called “the gospel of the kingdom” when the emphasis is put upon the kingly authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called “the gospel of the grace of God” when the emphasis is put upon the sinner’s salvation. It is called “the glorious gospel of God,” or “the gospel of the glory of God,” when the emphasis is put upon the place that the Savior now occupies. When it is called “the everlasting gospel” we think of that message that tells us there is One, and One only, through whom sinners can be reconciled to God, and that is the Lord Jesus. Writing to the Galatians, the apostle says, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” For there is no other gospel of God than the gospel of His Son, telling sinful men of the way whereby they may be justified before His face.
If, then, men have nothing else to bring, why should they want to destroy the confidence of the people in God’s truth? This was a stern message which Paul did not like to deliver, but he had to explain things because of the misapprehensions and the unkind and untruthful insinuations that his enemies were instilling into the hearts and minds of his converts. “I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.” He is not speaking of natural ability. What he means is this: When it comes to service, I suppose that I was not a whit behind any of them. God had put His seal upon his ministry. He had led thousands to the Savior’s feet, and yet they said he was not an apostle because he did not know Christ when He was here on earth. Paul received his apostleship directly from heaven. It was the risen Christ who appeared to him, “delivering him from the people and the Gentiles” unto whom he was sent. That was Paul’s ordination to the apostleship. These Corinthians were God’s seal upon his work.
“Though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge.” He frankly admits that he has not the gift of eloquence. But no one could declare the truth more plainly than he. “Though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been thoroughly made manifest among you in all things.” They knew what his life was like when he lived among them. There was one thing concerning which they found fault with him. He would not take any money from them! That is the last thing anyone would find fault with in a minister in these days! But they said that showed he could not be a real apostle. He had labored in Corinth for a year-and-a-half and he would not let them contribute anything for his support. His enemies said that if he had known that he was a real apostle he would have allowed them to support him, but he did not dare, because he was not sure of his ground. He had to explain. “Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel…freely?” He had entered a city which was one of the most voluptuous on the face of the earth. He said, “I will not be dependent on this people for anything.” He went there to preach the gospel, and even after they professed to be the Lord’s he would not let them support him. He must make them feel that everything they received from him was God’s free gift, so that there would not be any idea in their hearts that he was looking for personal gain. How did he live? Well, he says, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.” In other churches they put their contributions together and sent the money down to Corinth and helped to support him, so that he might carry on his evangelistic work without asking anything, lest they should misunderstand his motives. “When I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.” He made tents to support himself, and when that money was not enough, then the Lord sent it in from brethren from Macedonia, and thus in one way or another he was enabled to be independent of that critical, faultfinding group in Corinth, who might misunderstand his motives if he received their money. It is hard to please some people; you cannot do it. If you talk loudly they do not like it, and if you talk softly they cannot hear. If you preach the gospel, that is too simple, and if you teach the Word it is too deep! And so Paul could not satisfy these people, but he sought to clear himself at any rate of the charge of selfishness in his testimony.
“As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia.” He did not always live like this, but there were special reasons why he should do it in Achaia. Why did he do it? Because he did not love them? God knows. I remember some years ago I was out in Oregon, and there was a sterling old Hollander and his fine family of ten sons and one daughter, who attended nearly all the meetings; and this dear man did not have any assurance of salvation. He was doing his very best to please God. He was trying to keep the law, and he was hoping to get the testimony in some way of his election and know he was saved. I tried to open up the truth of salvation by grace for all who believe. The old man would listen, but he thought it was too easy. I was invited to his home for dinner, and afterward we sat down over an open Bible, and I tried to show him that he could be saved in a moment by simply trusting in the Lord Jesus, but he was so occupied with hyper-Calvinism that he could not see the simple truth and rest in Christ his Savior. After four hours I was leaving, and just as I was turning away the dear old man—with his long beard he looked like Paul Krueger—reached in his pocket and offered me a gift of five dollars. I said, “Tell me, are you giving that out of love for Christ, or are you giving it to try to help buy your salvation?” He looked at me a moment or two and he said, “I don’t love Christ, I wish I did.” I said, “Keep your five dollars. I appreciate your kindness in offering it, but I do not want you to get the idea that there is anything meritorious about giving money to a servant of Christ.” They told me afterward that he went to his room and cried like a child. Two years later I came back, and I shall never forget the night he came up to me and said, “I love the Lord Jesus; I have trusted Him as my Savior; I know I am His. Will you take the five dollars now?” I took it and was glad to try to use it for the Lord Jesus Christ.
That was Paul’s idea. The Corinthians had the wrong attitude about money. Paul did not want their money for himself. “But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” I gather from this that these false teachers were quite eager for financial gain. Paul took the opposite attitude. Then again, these false teachers spoke well, they seemed in most things to be very much like real servants of Christ. How do you detect them? By the message they bring. If they do not preach the truth of God they are not Christ’s apostles. But they seem to be nice men; they speak so graciously and eloquently; they are personally so attractive. The apostle says, “No marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” He does not come to men in the crude way we usually see him pictured, with horns and a tail and hoofs. Why, such a Devil would not lead anyone astray! But a Devil who comes as an angel of light, with kindly, soft, tender words and dulcet tones—that is the kind of Devil that deceives people.
And so Paul says, if “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light…it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” Did you notice that expression, “his ministers?” Does Satan have ministers? Does the Devil have ministers? Yes, that is what Paul says. A man may be cultured and refined and ordained to the ministerial office and profess to teach the Word of God, but all the time he may be Satan’s appointee. How can we tell Satan’s ministers from Christ’s ministers? In one simple way, Paul says. There need be no difficulty about it. If they are Satan’s they may talk a great deal about human righteousness, but one thing they do not talk about. Satan’s ministers have nothing to say about the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s ministers are like the bride in the Song of Solomon. The bridegroom says to her, “Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet.” The true servant of Christ has lips that speak of the blood of Jesus. He points sinners to that atoning blood through which alone guilty men may be saved. No matter how much one may insist on righteousness, personal, civic, or national, if he fails to present to men salvation through the precious, cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is one of Satan’s ministers. For God has no other message for lost men than that which is linked with the work of Calvary’s cross.
Paul’s Sufferings For Christ
2 Corinthians 11:16-33
say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. (vv. 16-33)
I confess to you that when I read words like these, I cannot get away from the thought that in all the nearly fifty years that I have known Christ as my Savior, and during almost all that time I have been trying to preach His Word, I have just been playing at Christianity. When I think what this dear servant of God of the first century went through for Christ, motivated by a consuming love for the Savior, I feel that I have a great deal to learn of what it means to be a true minister of the Lord Jesus.
We have already noticed in the study of this letter that there were those who were very jealous of the ministry of the apostle Paul. They would have crowded him out of the various churches had it been possible, they even ignored him in order to prejudice those who had gladly received him as the servant of the Lord. On some occasions, while not exactly stooping to evil-speaking, they had endeavored to insinuate that he had no true ground for counting himself an apostle of Jesus Christ, that after all he was merely an ecclesiastical freelance and that his words should not be accepted, as those of the original twelve apostles, as really inspired of God. It was because of all this, because his own converts were being distressed and upset by such things, that he found it necessary to direct attention to the marks of his apostleship. He seeks to show that God Himself has put His stamp on his ministry by permitting him to suffer for Christ’s sake.
Notice first his boasting. He says in verses 16-21: “Let no man think me a fool.” That is, there were those who would imply that he was simply imagining that he had had a divine commission, that he was just a simpleton and did not know the difference between an idle dream and a heavenly vision, between the direct call of God and the moving of his own human spirit. “Let no man think me a fool”—I am not as simple as that; and yet he is saying, “If you do, well, then receive me on that ground, and give me a chance to indulge in a little bit of foolishness in talking about myself.” He was altogether at home when speaking of Christ, but when he had to speak of himself, it was most distasteful, and he considered it as mere foolishness. Yet it seemed necessary, in order to clear up this particular difficulty. “That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord” (he was not speaking as though by direct command of God but foolishly, as it were,) “in this confidence of boasting.” Others had come to these Corinthians who boasted of their lineage and of their graces and abilities and gifts, and Paul says, “Since you like to hear that kind of thing, I will give you a little of it.” “Ye suffer fools gladly.” In other words, the man who spends time talking about himself is a fool; you have had some of that, and you seemed to enjoy it, and so I am going to give you a little more of it. “Seeing ye yourselves are wise.” That was a bit of irony. You Corinthians are so remarkably wise that you can let some of the rest of us indulge ourselves. “For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.” Paul says, if you can stand that, you can stand it if I tell you a little of my personal experiences and of the Lord’s dealings with me.
“I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.” There were those who had a great deal to say about their credentials. He too had something to say along that line, and so he went on to tell them something about his lineage. Those who came troubling them were as a rule Jews who had made a profession of Christianity, but had never broken with the old system and come out into the full place of the new covenant. They boasted of the fact that they were real Hebrews of Abraham’s seed, and Paul asks what have they to boast of over himself? “Are they Hebrews? so am I…Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.” I wonder whether this message is going into the homes of any Jewish families. I am quoting the words of an eminent Hebrew Christian of nineteen hundred years ago, one of the most highly educated rabbis of his day, a man brought up at the feet of the Rabbi Gamaliel, noted for his sanity and sound orthodoxy. This man, Paul, once called Saul of Tarsus, was of all the Jews of his day the man who had the most bitter hatred against Christianity; but something happened to him that made him the outstanding apostle of the new doctrine of the grace of God, and he is telling us something here of what he endured for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes people say that certain persons change their religion for temporal benefit. It was not a question of changing religion for Paul, but of getting to know the living Christ. And it was not for temporal benefit, for had he remained as he was he would have lived and died as one of the most honored Hebrews of his time. He knew when he confessed Christ Jesus as his Savior that he would be put out of the synagogue, that his own friends would disown him, look upon him as though dead, and yet he decided to endure it all for Christ’s sake. He says, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Phil. 3:7). This man was genuine. Something had taken place in his inner life that made him step right out from Judaism and commit himself to the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.
“Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more.” Do others boast that they are ministers of Christ? I too am a minister of Christ, and my ministry has been a wider one than theirs. He is not saying, “I am a greater minister, a greater teacher, a greater preacher.” What he is saying is this, “I have laboured more abundantly [than all the rest of them].” He had gone from city to city, from country to country, and from continent to continent, giving the glad, glorious message of the grace of God. None of them had excelled him in this or had come near him in time spent and places visited and multitudes preached to. Then he tells how he has suffered for his ministry: “In stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.” When you turn to the book of Acts you read once of his being beaten with stripes, but he says, “In stripes above measure.” Just once you read of his being in prison, but he says, “In prisons more frequent.” We do not get the entire record in Acts. “In deaths oft.” He passed through experiences again and again that were harder to bear than dying for Christ would have been.
Then notice the pathos of this, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.” That was the discipline of the Jewish synagogue. He could have been free of that. When they summoned him for trial on these five occasions, it was by the elders of the synagogue who charged him with teaching things contrary to the law of Moses, and they condemned him to be beaten with forty stripes save one. That was the Jewish way of disciplining those who were adjudged guilty of violation of the law. They were afraid that they might exceed the legal requirements, for God had said that they were not to be unmerciful, and so they gave thirteen stripes on one side, thirteen on the other, and thirteen down the middle of the back. That was the way they beat one who had broken the law of Moses. If Paul had said, “You have no authority over me; I am a Christian, and you cannot judge me and pronounce sentence upon me; I will appeal to Rome,” he could have been free from all this. He did this when Caesar’s own officers would have violated the law, but when his own brethren, the Jews, pronounced judgment against him, he bowed his head and took it because of his love for them.
He said, “I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20). If you want to see how much Paul loved the Jews, you can do so there as you see him tied to that post, with his back bare. Notice his quivering flesh as the thongs come down upon him. And he could have been delivered from it all if he had simply said, “I am no longer a Jew; I am a Christian.” But although he was a Christian he could not forget that by birth he was a Jew, and he loved his people. We hear him say on another occasion, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1). And so he even bore the synagogue’s discipline in order that he might not be alienated from the people he loved and served and suffered for, “that they might be saved.”
Then he goes on to tell of what he endured from the Gentiles. “Thrice was I beaten with rods.” That was the Roman punishment. “Once was I stoned”; that was at Lystra. “Thrice I suffered shipwreck.” You read of his being shipwrecked once in the book of Acts, but there were two more such experiences. “A night and a day I have been in the deep.” I suppose the vessel had gone to pieces, and he was floating about clinging to a spar. No one was near, but he was looking to God, and in some way deliverance came. All these things failed to quench that burning ardor that sent him through the world for a generation proclaiming salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then there were other perils that he suffered. They were eightfold as given in verse 26. “In perils of robbers,” that was a very real peril in those days when robbers beset every mountain path, and Paul traveled from city to city mostly on foot. “In perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen.” The Jews hated him, and the Gentile world failed to appreciate the fact that he was God’s ambassador to them. “In perils in the city,” among the cultured and refined as well as among the uncouth and the ignorant. “In perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.” This last is perhaps the saddest of all. Those professing the name of Christ and yet untrue to him, those taking the ground of being servants of God and yet showing themselves false brethren, who would have destroyed his good name if they could.
And then he continues, “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness.” Whatever have you and I known of suffering anywhere near like this? We have sung sometimes, but I wonder whether we really mean it:
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Naked, poor, despised, forsaken,
Thou, from hence, my all shall be;
Perish ev’ry fond ambition,
All I’ve sought, and hoped, and known;
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and heav’n are still my own.
Do we really mean it when we sing such a song as this? Are we prepared thus to suffer and endure for Christ’s sake? This is first-century Christianity, this is what it cost to be true to God in those early days, and yet how faithful God’s servants were that we might have this wondrous heritage of the truth today.
But there was another thing that weighed upon him, and only one having the oversight in the church of God could know the meaning of this: “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” Paul carried the people of God upon his heart. He could not go into a place and labor for a while and then be through with them. They were still on his heart, and if they got into trouble, into difficulty, into dissension, it burdened him, and he took it to God and wrote letters to them and tried to help and bless. And now he says, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” That is, if someone who should know better stumbles one of the weakest, it fills me with indignation. So truly was he a father in Christ to the people of God. And he adds, “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” If I must boast, I will not boast in what I have done or what I am, but “I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” Just a poor, weak, earthen vessel, and yet God has taken him up and used him to give the message of His glory to a needy world. He could boast in this, that in spite of all his weakness God had seen fit to speak in and through him.
His conclusion is very striking. You might have expected him to tell of some very remarkable experience he had had, in which God showed that, after all, it was His delight to put honor on the man who had stooped so low for the sake of Jesus, but he tells of something that most of us would have left out. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.” What a picture! And then think of the dignity of some of us. Just imagine him curled up in a basket and dropped over a wall! That is the last view we have of Paul in this chapter. Someone passing might have looked up and said, “Well, dear me, is that the Rev. Dr. Paul?” No, it is Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, who counted all things but loss for that excellent name, and is ready to be put to shame, is ready to suffer, is ready to endure, in order that Christ may be manifested in him whether by life or by death.
May God teach us who love the same Savior to emulate this His servant in devotedness to Christ, in glorying in infirmities. Surely our Savior deserves our best and most devoted service.
Alas, and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (vv. 1-10)
We have been occupied with some of the experiences that the apostle Paul went through as he suffered for Christ’s sake. You remember we are told, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). So, if we are not suffering persecution for the name of Christ, the inference is that we are not living godly. We may be behaving ourselves decently, we may be living respectably, but God does not have the supreme place in our lives if we do not know something of persecution on the part of a world that hates God and that nailed His own blessed Son to the bitter cross.
Paul had identified himself with that cross from the moment of his conversion. He said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). Naturally, the world hated the man that spurned it. Walk with the world and the world loves its own. Jesus said, “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil” (John 7:7).
And so the apostle lived and toiled and suffered for an entire generation for the name’s sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. But it was not all suffering. There were times of ecstatic joy, there were moments of wonderful blessing and spiritual refreshment. Did others boast of religious experiences? Well, Paul says, if it is the fashion to boast, I suppose I can boast too. I do not want to boast of myself, but I can tell you, if you want to know, something of the great privileges that at times have come to me.
“It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations [or manifestations] of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ.” He is referring, of course, to himself, but what a wonderful thing to be able to speak as “a man in Christ.” Do you know “a man in Christ,” in that sense? You remember on one occasion, writing to the Romans, the apostle speaks of some of his own kinsmen, and uses that expression, “Who also were in Christ before me.” You see, people are not in Christ by natural birth. You are not in Christ because your father was in Christ before you were born. You are not in Christ because you have had a praying mother. You yourself have to be born of God. Unless regenerated you are not in Christ up to this present moment. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). It may be very attractive flesh, it may be very agreeable flesh, it may even be religious flesh, but it is flesh still. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” It is the man who is born of the Spirit who is in Christ, and so Paul says, I have told you something of the hardships I have endured for Jesus’ sake, now I want to tell you something of a great experience that came to me once as a man in Christ.
“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago.” That is very interesting. This man had had a remarkable experience, and as far as we can learn he had kept it a secret between himself and God for over fourteen years. This is very unlike us. I have an idea, knowing myself as well as I do, that if I had been in the third heaven yesterday, I should be telling you about it this morning. I would forget everything else and tell you what a wonderful time I had in the third heaven, and then if you believed me, you would look at me and say, “What a saint he must be that God should want his company in the third heaven!” and I would be getting glory to myself through telling about this. That is probably the reason Paul kept it a secret; he did not want people to think of him. He did not mind telling of the hard things; he did not mind speaking of the time when he was ignominiously let down over a wall in a basket. That was something that people would sneer at, laugh at, but such a wonderful experience as being caught up into the third heaven he could keep to himself until the proper time. But if others are boasting of experiences, he will tell them of his own. I do not know what attention you may have given to the chronology in connection with the apostle Paul’s life. A little over fourteen years before he wrote this second letter to the Corinthians he was laboring in Galatia. He visited the cities of Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra, and the people were so carried away by him that at one time they wanted to worship him as a god, but later persecution broke out, and they turned on him and actually sought to stone him to death. In fact, the moment came when his crushed and bruised body fell in the highway, and as far as anybody could see he was dead, and they dragged him out of the city and threw that body to one side as a bit of worthless refuse. That was apparently the end of the apostle Paul so far as his ministry was concerned. But after his persecutors had gone back into the city, a little group of heartbroken disciples gathered about that body, and one can imagine how desolate they felt. Their father in Christ, the one who had led them to know Christ, who had cared for them in the things of God, lay before them evidently dead, and they were about to make arrangements for a decent burial, when suddenly Paul rose up and gladdened their hearts by what must have seemed like a veritable resurrection. He was ready to go back to the business of preaching the gospel.
What happened to him at that time when his body lay there in a coma? I like to think that it was then he had the experience he refers to here. “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago.” That was just about the time they tried to stone him to death, and God at that time may have said, “Paul, I am going to give you a little vacation; I am going to take you up to let you see the land to which you are going. Come up with Me, Paul,” and he found himself, he says, “caught up into the third heaven,” and he tells us he was so enraptured by the glories that he witnessed that he was not conscious whether or not he was in the body. Observe, it is possible to be thoroughly conscious, and yet be out of the body. The body is not the real man. I am not the house in which I live. I live in this house, but someday I am going to put off this my tabernacle; I am going to move out unless it should please God that I live in the flesh until Jesus returns again. But if death takes me, the real man leaves the body. The body dies, but the believer is “absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Paul had no consciousness of having a body, or on the other hand, he did not miss his body. “Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth.” That always helps me when I think of my loved ones gone over to the other side. They have left this scene of trial and toil and care, and have gone home to be forever with the Lord, but they are just as real, and just as truly intelligent beings out of the body and with Christ, as they were when they were down here in the body. In Ephesians 3:15 Paul speaks of “the whole family in heaven and earth.” Paul was not a materialist, he was not a “soul-sleeper,” for if he had been, he would have said, “The whole family in the grave and on earth,” but he did not recognize any of the family as lying in the grave, it was just their bodies that were there, but the members of the family are in heaven and on earth.
Millions have reached that blissful shore,
Their trials and their labor o’er,
And yet there is room for millions more,
Are you on the way? Have you trusted that blessed Savior? These all died in faith, they are at home with Christ which is far better. Do you know Christ? You have often said that you hoped when life was over that you would find a place in heaven. Are you quite sure you would be comfortable there? Are you quite sure you would be happy in heaven? I know people who cannot enjoy an hour at a prayer meeting who imagine they would enjoy eternity in heaven. If you have not a new nature, a life that is hid with Christ in God, so that you can enjoy Him now and delight in fellowship with His people, how do you expect to enjoy God and fellowship with the saints in heaven? I am afraid that if some of you were suddenly caught up into heaven without any inward change, you would hardly be there before you would be seeking to get out of that holy place because you have not a nature that is in touch with heaven. You do not appreciate the things of heaven now; how could you expect to enjoy them if you went there as you are? “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7), Jesus said. Paul was born again, he had a new life, and when he found himself in heaven he was at home there. If you were suddenly to be called away from the body, would you be going home?
A dear fellow was dying. He had been brought up in a Christian home, but he had spurned the grace of God, and someone was trying to comfort him, and leaning over him, said, “It won’t be long now, and after all, death is only going home.”
He looked up startled and said, “Going home! What do you mean? This is the only home I have ever known. Death for me will be going away from home, and going I do not know where.”
What would it mean to you? Can you sing:
My heavenly home is bright and fair,
No pain nor death shall enter there;
Its glittering light the sun outshines,
Those heavenly mansions shall be mine.
I am going Home to die no more.
Or would death for you mean going away from home? Is this world your home, and would you be going away into the darkness and distance? Byron says, and Byron was not a Christian, “There are wanderers over the sea of eternity whose bark glides on and on and anchored ne’er shall be.” Oh, can you say:
By faith in a glorified Christ on the throne,
I give up the joys of this world to its own;
As a stranger and pilgrim I plainly declare,
“My home is up yonder.” But will you be there?
Home, Home, sweet, sweet Home,
There’s no friend like Jesus,
There’s no place like Home.
Paul went home for a while. He tells us in the next verse, “I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise.” That word is found three times in the New Testament, and is not a Greek word although written in Greek letters.
Paradise is a Persian word, and means “a royal garden.” It was the name of the garden of the King where every lovely fruit and flower could be found, and it helps me to understand what it is like up yonder. I am glad God has given us flowers. I am glad He has given us fruit. He could have given us shade without fruit, but “He giveth us richly all things to enjoy,” and I try never to partake of the fruit of His bounty or to gaze upon the flowers of His love without being reminded of Paradise. It is intended to give us a little idea of what it is like up yonder. When we talk about the believer not loving the world, we do not mean that he should not be interested in this creation. He should love the things that God his Father has made.
Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth beneath is sweeter green,
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen.
Birds with sweeter songs o’erflow,
Flowers with newer beauty shine,
Since I know as now I know,
I am His and He is mine.
And heaven is a place of wondrous beauty.
Paul found himself in a royal garden, and says he heard “unspeakable words.” That really means words that could not possibly be declared, words that no human tongue could make plain, the song of the redeemed, the praises of the saints, the joy of the angels. Now he says, “Of such an one will I glory,” of this man in Christ he will glory, but not of himself as a poor lost sinner. “Of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.” But why? He says, “I will tell you how I got them; my infirmities were a love gift from my Father.” I once heard of a man who was very wealthy and lived in a lovely and magnificent manor house. He had grown up away from God, and then was struck with that dread malady, paralysis, and for many years he had to be wheeled about in a chair, and as a result of that affliction, unable to get out and enjoy the things of the world, his heart turned to the things of God and he found Christ. They used to wheel him down to the gathering of the saints, and trying to half raise himself in that chair he would praise God and say, “O God, I praise Thee for my dear paralysis.” He knew that if God had not permitted that infirmity to come upon him, he might have lived and died in independence of God.
And then Paul says, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” You see, there is no danger to any one in the third heaven, but the danger comes if you have been in the third heaven and return to earth. Think of walking up and down the street saying to yourself: “I am the only man in this city who has ever been in the third heaven and come back again.” Paul had been there and when he returned God said, “I must not let My servant be spoiled by this experience,” and so gave him, we are told, a thorn in the flesh, but He gave it through the Devil. Do you know that Satan cannot do one thing against the child of God until the Lord gives him permission? That is the lesson of the book of Job. “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). Job took everything from God, and so Paul says that this was given to him lest he be exalted above measure. “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” What was the thorn in the flesh? I cannot tell you because I do not know. Paul has not told us, and there is no use in our guessing about it; but I know it was in the flesh and therefore a physical infirmity. It was a weakness of some kind that pained and hurt just as though one were driving a thorn into the body, it may have been something that affected his public utterances, something humiliating, and he went to the Lord and prayed in agony of soul three times, “O Lord, deliver me from this thing.” The Lord finally said, “No, Paul, I am not going to deliver you from it, but I am going to do better than that; I am going to give you grace to bear it.” Oh, those unanswered prayers of our lives, how they bewilder some of us! Think of the many unanswered prayers recorded in the Bible.
Abraham prayed, “O God, that Ishmael may live before thee.” Now Abraham meant, “Let him be the inheritor of the promises.” But God said, “No, in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” How thankful Abraham is today that his prayer was not answered. Moses prayed, “O God, let me go into the land,” and God said, “Do not talk to Me about that any more; you cannot go in,” and today as Moses stands yonder in the glory how glad he is that God had His way. David prayed for the child of Bathsheba, “Heal the child, and let him live.” But God said, “No, I won’t heal him; I am going to take him home,” and David bowed his head at last and said, “He cannot come back to me, but I will go to him,” and David’s heart was drawn toward heaven in a way it would never have been otherwise, and how thankful he is today that God did not answer his prayer. Elijah went out into the wilderness when an angry woman frightened him. The man who could stand before King Ahab ran away to the juniper tree when Jezebel was after him, and he flung himself down before God and said, “I am no better than my fathers.” Did you think you were, Elijah? He found out that he was not, and then he said, “Let me die.” How thankful he is today that God did not answer that prayer. Elijah is the only man between the flood and the cross of Christ who never died at all. He went to heaven without dying. And Paul prayed, “Remove the thorn from my flesh,” and the Lord said, “I won’t remove it, but I will give you grace to bear it.”
Have you a thorn, some great trial, some infirmity, some distress, something that is just burdening your heart and it seems as though you will break under it? You have prayed and prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this.” It may not be the will of God to deliver you, but He says, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” When Paul heard that, he said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The weaker I am the better opportunity Christ has to manifest Himself in me.
And then in the concluding verse of this section he says, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” May God give each one of us to take that place of subjection to the will of God where we can glory in infirmities.
Helping Or Hindering Christian Testimony
2 Corinthians 12:11-21
I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: and lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed. (vv. 11-21)
The church of God is the holiest thing there is on earth, and yet there are a great many imperfections in that church. It is absolutely the best thing in the world today. If you were suddenly to take the church of God out of this world, what a mixed, conglomerate mass of iniquity would be left behind! You can realize that better if you stop to consider what the church of God has meant throughout the centuries. People often debate the question as to whether the world is better or worse than it was nineteen hundred years ago. Some insist that the world is worse, and that it is constantly getting worse. They quote the Scripture, “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Others insist that the world is better, and they point to the millions of Christian people, to the kindliness and the interest in the poor and needy that prevail in many lands where once the vilest cruelty existed. But, in my judgment, both are wrong.
The world is no worse than it was nineteen hundred years ago. When Scripture says that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse,” it is simply telling us what has always been true, and always will be true of people who turn away from God. As men give themselves up to evil, certainly they get worse and worse as time goes on. That was always so; it is so today. Wherever you find evil men, they grow worse and worse. But the world is not worse today than it was when our blessed Lord Jesus was here. The greatest crime that has ever been committed was committed nineteen hundred years ago in the murder of the Son of God. Now the world continues to condone that crime, and as long as it continues to reject the Lord Jesus Christ it will never get any better. Therefore the world is not getting any better. It is not improving. But, you say, think of the Christians, of the churches all over the land, of the kindliness and interest in the needy that prevail in many places. Yes, we take all that into consideration, but the question is this, “Is the
world getting any better?” If you want to find out if the world is getting any better, you must subtract the church. If you could imagine this scene with every Christian gone, you would have “the world,” and you would find that world just as corrupt, just as vile, just as wicked as it was nineteen hundred years ago. It is true that this globe is a much more comfortable place on which to have a home than it was nineteen hundred years ago. We enjoy a great many inventions, and have benefited by a great many things that minister to human need and comfort that were unknown then, but these things do not change the hearts of men. Men are just as wicked with electricity, with radios, with streamline trains, with motorboats, with airplanes, as they were before these things were known.
In this world there is something very dear to the heart of the Son of God. He called it, “my church.” When Peter made his great declaration, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock [the Rock that thou hast confessed] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:16-18). The Holy Spirit has likened that church to Christ’s body, His bride—“Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25-26).
The church is looked at in two aspects. In the first place it includes all believers everywhere at any time since the day of Pentecost. Now, whether these people have intimate church relationship with others or not, they belong to “the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). But the Scripture also contemplates
churches. You read of the churches of Galatia, the churches of Judea, the seven churches of Asia, etc., and these local churches are groups of confessed believers. Not always are all of them real believers, but presumably, they all profess to be believers, and so gather together for worship, for praise, for prayer, and for Christian testimony. This has been so from the beginning. Those that “received [the] word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41-42). We need this fellowship, we need this outward expression of Christian testimony, and so God by His Spirit forms local churches in various places where His people gather together thus to worship Him. There are some who say, “I am a Christian and belong to the church, the body of Christ, and I do not need to be associated with any local body of Christians. If I could find one absolutely perfect, I would join it.” But then, it would be spoiled after you got in, for you would be the first bad thing in it, because you would go in with that critical spirit of yours, and that would spoil the whole testimony. It is never contemplated in Scripture that local churches will be perfect companies of believers. From the beginning you find a great many imperfect people in local assemblies, but that is no reason why they should be disbanded. Therefore, you and I as Christians are responsible to walk in fellowship with other Christians. They need us and we need them. Some people who find it very difficult to get along with others get a great blessing for putting up with them. The hardest thing, if endured for Christ’s sake, will bring blessing. It drives us to our knees to self-examination, leads us to ask ourselves, “What is the matter with me that I find it so hard to please such absolutely good people?” We are all just poor sinners saved by grace, but someday we are going to be just like the Lord Jesus Christ, and as He is so patient with us, we can afford to be patient one with another.
We find from this epistle that there was a great deal in the early church that was far from satisfactory. We have seen the difficulties the apostle Paul had even with his own converts. He would go into a certain place and lead people to Christ, and it would not be long before they thought they knew more than he did, and some of them, in their own estimation, became so much holier than he that they no longer wanted to have fellowship with him!
As he comes to the last part of the portion of the epistle, in which he has attempted to justify his own ministry, Paul shows us that there are both helpers and hinderers in the church of God. You can settle it in your own mind as to which you are, whether a helper or a hinderer. You are one or the other. You are either helping the testimony, spreading the gospel, commending Christ to other people, or you are hindering, by leading people to question whether there is anything real in the salvation of which we speak.
Let us notice first of all how grace wrought in the apostle Paul. He did not like to speak of himself, but the Holy Spirit made him do so. For the fourth or fifth time he says that he is a fool as he speaks of himself, “I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you.” God had given him this mission and he could not think lightly of it. Because he had led them to Christ he should have been commended of them. It was like little children trying to tell a father what to do and how to behave. Not so very many months ago I was in a home and something was going on upstairs while I waited in the car. A young lady of about seventeen years of age came down the stairs, and said to me, “You must excuse me, I do get so angry. I have an awful job making father behave!” That is the spirit of the day, and these Corinthians were trying to regulate their father in Christ.
Paul now says that he has to tell them something of the mission entrusted to him, which was not given to any other man. He says, “For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.” You have here a wonderful combination of the importance of the mission committed to him and of Christian humility. He would have been false to his commission had he failed to recognize the fact that he was indeed in nothing behind the very chiefest apostles. The Lord Jesus Christ had committed to him such a ministry as no other apostle had fully entered into, but he to whom this ministry was committed said, “Though I be nothing.” In his first epistle to them he rebuked the Corinthians for making too much of leaders and saying, “I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I am of Cephas,” and says, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed?” (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:5). But the minister is nothing, Christ is all, and so he sets the example of true Christian humility. One who would be a helper in the work of the Lord must be a humble man. God refuses to identify His name for long with those that walk in pride. “Those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Dan. 4:37). If we have not the mind of Christ, we will not be used of God as He would like to use us. Let us search our own hearts and see whether we are cherishing that unholy pride which goes before destruction. There is many a man of remarkable ability whom God has to put to one side because a proud, haughty spirit comes in continually to interfere with the work of the Lord. May God teach us to be lowly, and help us to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing” (Col. 1:10).
Notice in the third place, the devotedness of this man. In verse 12 we read, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” The miracles he wrought proved he was divinely approved and accredited. “For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” He was out in the work of the Lord and he was unequaled as a teacher and a preacher. Did he set a price upon his ministry? Did he say, “I refuse to preach, to teach, unless you pay me a certain salary”? No, he said, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you.” And when he found there was a wrong spirit among them he decided that he would take nothing from them, and all the time he was ministering to them he had received his support from other churches who sent their offerings to him. These Corinthians did not understand it, and so said, “He cannot be a real apostle or he would be taking money for his services.” But he says, “The very fact that I am here to serve you freely ought to be to you the evidence that I have no selfish motive.” He was an unselfish man, a devoted man, there was something so frank, so childlike, so wholehearted about him, that it should have commended him to their love and confidence. “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved”—I am willing to lay myself out for you whether you think much of me or not, I am here to do you good. And yet they tried to see some hidden motive behind it all and said, “He is crafty, he is putting on this appearance of humility, he is pretending to be meek and lowly in order to have influence over us and exercise authority over us.” “Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile!” Is he saying that he did this? No, he is quoting what they said about him, for they said, “He is deceitful, his apparent disinterestedness is just craft, and he is pretending to be so humble and lowly in order that he may hold us under his thumb.” The apostle repudiates anything of the kind and says, “My preaching was hot with enticing words of mans wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:4). “Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you?” He had sent Titus to receive their gift for the needy saints, and with him another to count the money, that there might be no misunderstanding. “Walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?”—showing that our entire service was absolutely unselfish.
Then notice, his own life was summed up in living for others, “Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.” Although you and I are far from being apostles, yet we can all be characterized by the same spirit of humility, of devotedness to Christ, of unselfish service for others.
Now look at the contrast. See what has been manifested in these Corinthians as this evil spirit of fault-finding took hold of them. “I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.” Let us face this passage honestly, and see whether we have fallen under the power of any of these unholy things. “Lest there be debates.” What does that mean? It is what you so often see when two or three people get to fussing about this and that. What a childish spirit this is, and yet how it hurts the work of the Lord. And then in the second place, “envyings.” How few people there are who can rejoice in what others are accomplishing, who can delight to see others honored and recognized. In the third place, “wrath,” for envy cherished leads to wrath. And how easy it is to be censorious and bitter. That which begins in a small faultfinding way, if not judged, soon degenerates into positive ill-will toward others. And then, “strife.” How often there is strife between God’s people. “Backbitings.” You know the sister who comes to you and says, “Did you hear about Brother So-and-So?”
“Well, I don’t know that I ought to tell you.”
“Oh, yes, do.”
“Well, it is really awful.”
And just then Brother So-and-So walks in the door, and the sisters say, “Why, how do you do? We were just talking of you. Speak of an angel, and he’s sure to appear!” It isn’t always the sisters who do this. It is often the brothers too.
Miserable hypocrites! Backbiting, saying things behind the back that they would never dare to say to the face! If every time someone said something evil or unkind behind another’s back the other person would say, “Is that so? Well, let us go and talk to him about it,” this thing would soon be stopped. Then, “whisperings.” A meeting breaks up, and a little group over here is whispering and fault-finding, and there a group is together whispering and complaining. Judge whether you have ever been guilty of anything of the kind. “Swellings.” I do not recall what that Greek word is, but this word always makes me think of a bullfrog sitting on a log puffing, puffing, puffing. Throw a stone at him, and he goes down to a very small size. And then, “tumults.” How many churches have been wrecked when at last these evil things have resulted in tumults, internal troubles that divide and destroy the work. We can be very grateful to God that through the Holy Spirit He has indicated these dangerous things so that we can avoid them and be helpers instead of hinderers.
Why did they find fault with the apostle Paul? He had to be very strict about some wicked things that had been tolerated by some people in the church at Corinth, and he says, “Lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.” Some of these people had fallen into unclean and unholy things, and in order to cover up their own pollution they were finding fault with Christ’s servant because of his faithfulness. That is always the effect of sin. Hidden sin in the life will result in unfair criticism of the servants of God who stand against things of that kind and seek to lift up a standard of holiness and purity.
And so, may we face the question, Am I a hinderer or a helper? God has committed to His church the business of making known the gospel of His grace to a lost world. I want by His help to carry it on and not to hinder. May God impress on our hearts the importance of devoted living for the blessing of others.
Crucified Through Weakness
2 Corinthians 13:1-14
This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare: since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates. Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction. Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. (vv. 1-14)
This last chapter may really be divided into two parts, and yet they are so intimately connected that I want to discuss it all at the same time. The apostle, you remember, had told these Corinthians on two previous occasions that he had been arranging to come to see them, but certain circumstances hindered. Just what forms these circumstances took we are not told, but he was unable to come; and because he had not kept his partial promise there were those who accused him of lightness, of levity, in promising things which he did not do. Others declared there was a very good reason why he did not come. They said, “He has charged us with certain things, which he is taking for granted are true, and he does not dare to come and face us about them.” And he said, “I am coming, the third time I am coming, and when I come, in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word will be established. I have written you beforehand of behavior contrary to Christian principles. All I have heard will be fully substantiated, and I hope when I get there I will find you really repentant of these evil things and not condoning them.” “I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare.” He did not like to come. He says on one occasion, “To spare you I refrained from coming,” but he could not put it off; he would come to them and deal with those things face to face. Unholiness is incompatible with the testimony of the church of God, which is the temple of the living God. “Holiness becometh Thine house, O LORD, for ever” (Ps. 93:5). And if those who are linked up with others in Christian fellowship are living unholy lives, they should be put away from the assembly, but if they repent they are to be restored to full communion. In replying again to the suggestion that Paul was not a real apostle, he says, “If you seek a proof of Christ living in me, examine yourselves.” Now if you take this fifth verse out of its connection you lose the meaning of it. Many people take it as though he meant that we are to examine ourselves to see if we are real Christians, but that is not what Paul was saying. They questioned his apostleship, whether the Spirit of God was in his ministry. If you will look at everything after “speaking in me,” verse 3 down through verse 4, as parenthetical, then you get his exact meaning. “Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me,…examine yourselves.” In other words, he is saying, “Are you Christians? How did you become Christians? Was it not through my ministry? Well, then God was working in me. If you are hypocrites, if you are not real Christians, then Christ did not work in me. If you are real Christians, if you have the assurance that you are the children of God, you received that as a result of the testimony that I brought to you at Corinth. Therefore you ought to be the last people in the world to question whether Christ wrought through me.”
I suppose we are all indebted to some servant of Christ for our present knowledge of the truth. If we are not living in a godly manner, it is reflecting discredit on the one who brought us to Christ. If we want to bring credit to our fathers and mothers in Christ, then we should live to the glory of God. There are certain things that the world looks upon as its own, and I am here to represent my Father, and I do not want to bring discredit on my Father’s name. The Book says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17). Oh, I wish that we as Christians might ever keep that in mind! We are here in the world to represent our Father and to represent our Savior, and men can but get their conception of God and of Christ, our blessed Lord, through us. We may well examine ourselves, therefore, and see if we are so behaving as to bring glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us now go back and look at the parenthesis. Paul turns aside and exclaims concerning his ministry, “Which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you.” This is the parenthesis. Now notice how solemnly he brings before us the humiliation Christ endured for our redemption, which we are in a measure called to share. “He was crucified through weakness.” What does that mean? Does it mean He was so weak in Himself that He was unable to resist His foes? Or was He simply the victim of circumstances? Oh, no. The preposition translated “through” here is generally rendered “in.” He was crucified in weakness, but He liveth again in the power of God. It simply means this: He chose to become a Man for our redemption. He chose to be made “a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.” He who was higher than the highest “did not count it [equality with God] a thing to be grasped,” but He emptied Himself of the glory He had before the world was, and “being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, and [such a death, that] of the cross.” In this sense He was crucified through weakness. As excarnate God He could never have died for our sin. But He chose to become incarnate. He chose to become a man, and to be subject to hunger and thirst and weariness and every sinless infirmity of mankind, and He chose not to resist His foes. He allowed Himself to be spat upon, to be beaten, to be crowned with thorns. “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheek to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” He chose to be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” It was His own desire thus to give Himself a ransom for all, and so we read in his first epistle: “After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:21-24). Now listen: “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Think of these two expressions: First, “The foolishness of God”; what does it mean? It is really, “the simplicity of God.” It means that God’s wondrous plan of redemption through the cross is foolishness to the philosopher, the man of this world, but the Scripture says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” And, second, “The weakness of God”; what does that imply? God becoming Man, God submitting to the agony and shame of the cross, God in Christ bleeding, suffering, dying for our redemption. “The weakness of God is stronger than men.” God could do through the cross what He never could do apart from the cross. Oh, the miracles that have been wrought through the cross all down the centuries! Do you know of anything else that can change the heart of a hard, cruel and godless man, transform him and make a new creature of him?
A minister tells how on one occasion in New Guinea, where perhaps less than a score of years before the heathen were utterly wrapped in darkness, through a testimony carried on there by faithful witnesses the people were gathered reverently at the table of the Lord, and here sat a missionary of the cross. Beside him sat an elder of the native church. The minister recognized in this elder the son of a man who had eaten the missionary father of the son sitting there. The son of the martyred missionary and the son of the man who had killed him, were both remembering the Lord Jesus as the Savior of mankind. Do you know of anything that can bind hearts together like this?
You recall the story of Kayarnak, the first convert of the Moravian missionaries in Greenland. When they went to that country and found the people so steeped in iniquity, they said, “They will never understand the gospel. These people are drunkards, gluttons, they are adulterers, they are living the vilest of lives. They won’t understand the grace of God, they will take it as a license for sin.” So the Moravian missionaries drilled into the hearts and minds of that people God’s holy law. They said they had to do it to create a conscience in the Eskimo. But the results were nil. No man had ever sought out a missionary for conference about his soul. They listened to the messages and went back and lived their wicked lives again. And then Hans Egede came, his heart burning with love for that people. He had left wealth and honor to sacrifice himself for those unspeakably vile Greenlanders. It was announced he would speak in a certain neighborhood on a Lord’s Day. They crowded into a small lodge holding two hundred to three hundred people. It was a poor affair, built up from pieces of old wrecked ships. There they sat. Hans Egede stood up and preached and, for the first time in the history of Greenland, told the story of the cross. Tenderly, lovingly, with a heart that had itself been broken by the power of the cross, he told of the One who had suffered and bled for the redemption of sinners. It took an hour or two to tell his story, and when he finished Kayarnak, a young chief, who had been listening eagerly as the gospel was proclaimed, sprang forward and cried, “Missionaries, why did you not tell us this before? You have been with us a year, and you never told us before. You told us of a God who created a world, and it did not make us hate our sin. You told us of a God who gave His holy law. We learned the Ten Commandments, and we went out and got drunk again, but today you have told us how our sins broke the heart of God and He came to redeem us from our sins. Missionary, Kayarnak cannot sin against love like that. From now on Kayarnak will be a Christian.” And Kayarnak became the outstanding Christian testimony for years in Greenland. “The weakness of God is stronger than men.” We have sometimes tried to reason people into salvation, forgetting that our commission is to preach His Word, to preach Christ. Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, the power and wisdom of God.” He was crucified in weakness. Let us never forget that. My sin put Him there; your sin put Him there. What do I mean? You say, “We are Christians; do you mean the sins we committed before we were saved?” I mean the sin that you committed last night, that sin nailed the Son of God to the cross; that sin that you have been meditating today, that sin put God on the cross. All the sins that you and I have committed, of thought, of word and of deed, God saw them all, and for all of them the Son of God suffered, and if you deliberately walk out and commit sin you are sinning against the cross of Christ. You cannot live like the world without trampling on the Son of God. You cannot go on in things that His Book condemns without deliberately piercing, as it were, the side of the Son of God afresh.
And yet it is not a dead Christ that we serve. He lives by the power of God and He said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” We have a living Christ and He desires us to walk in His steps, to live in separation from the world. His people are not of the world, and that is one reason why they will never be understood by the world. You cannot walk as He walked and please the world; it is impossible. He says, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own.” Oh, the absurdity—shall I say—or the fanaticism of imagining that you can be a consistent Christian and yet live like the world. It is folly of the worst kind. If you are saved through the Christ that the world rejected, you take Him as your Lord and seek to live the kind of life He lived. Do you want to know what it was? Turn back to the four Gospels and see.
“Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates.” It is a dishonest thing to profess to serve Christ and not yield your life to His control. If those Corinthians were really Christians, then the gospel that Paul preached had been believed, and if believed it would show through the life. The truth proclaimed goes on from victory to victory. Note the unselfishness of this man Paul: “We are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong.” That is not the world’s way. We should be willing to take the lowest place. You see, Paul never sees the saints as perfect in the body. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may [lay hold of] that for which also I [have been laid hold of by] Christ Jesus.” But he is seeking the perfection of the saints, going on to this perfect, fully-developed Christian character. That only comes as we walk in fellowship with Christ.
“Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness.” He does not want to say some stern things that very much needed to be said. “According to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.”
And then comes the conclusion of his epistle: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be [perfect].” I desire your perfection. Literally, be perfected, by continual growth. “Be of good comfort.” Cheer up. “Be of one mind, live in peace.” I think one thing that brings great distress and hindrance to the work of the Lord is when believers speak so unkindly of others. Let us learn to speak well of our brethren in Christ. “Live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” “Greet one another with an holy kiss.” Do not put the emphasis on “kiss.” He is not saying that you are to greet people with a kiss. “Greet one another with a
holy kiss.” That is where you put the emphasis. Greet one another with a holy handshake. It is a very unholy handshake if on meeting a brother we say, “Well, my dear brother, how do you do?” and then turn away and say, “I have no use for him.” That is a very unholy handshake. Judas kissed the Lord and it was an unholy kiss; it was a kiss of hypocrisy. “All the saints salute you.”
And now we have that well-known benediction that has been heard ten million times since Paul wrote it: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”
In these words we have epitomized for us the outstanding doctrines of the Christian faith. The truth of the Holy Trinity is here presented as definitely as in Matthew 28:19. The grace of the Son, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Spirit include every blessing that is ours through the infinite mercy of God: grace to cover all our sins, and to strengthen us for every conflict; love to cheer and sustain our hearts in every trial; and a hallowed fellowship that gives us to enter into and enjoy our rich inheritance in Christ!