2 Corinthians 3:12-18

12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—

13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.

14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.

15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.

16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

hope (v.12) = expectation, trust, confidence — faith in the future

blinded (v.14) = hardened, rendered callous

liberty (v.17) = freedom from slavery

are being transformed (v.18) — continuing action

The action of Moses that Paul refers to occurs in Exodus 34:29-35:

2Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.

It is generally supposed that Moses, having come from the presence of God with the Law, had a countenance so glorious that he covered it with a veil in order to address the children of Israel.

This is not so. It is true that the children of Israel could not “steadfastly” behold Moses’ face, but he did not hide his glory from them.

This incident took place … after the apostasy of the golden calf, as Moses brought down the Ten Commandments for the second time. it is true that Aaron and the children of Israel “were afraid to come nigh” when they saw the glory of Moses’ countenance, but he called them back. …

It was when he had finished speaking with them that he put the veil over his face, that they might not see the glory fade. … The point is that Moses had no intention of hiding the glory of his countenance from the children of Israel, but rather wished them to see it. This is why he called them back when they fled. He put the veil on his face when he had done speaking, only that they might not see the glory disappear.

This explains 2 Corinthians 3:7 and 13, where we read that “the glory of his countenance … was to be done away” (Lit. “disappear”), and that he “put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished” (Again, lit., “which was to disappear“).

The glory of the Lord will never fade away; but the ministration of it, though begun in glory, ended in shame and disgrace, and this is what Moses’ transient glory typified. As he communicated the Law of God to the children of Israel his face shone, but this glory soon passed away and the further ministration of the Law brought judgment and death.

It is interesting to note that the dispensation of the Law began and ended as men with shining countenances addressed the people of Israel.

It began as Moses, with the glory of God upon his face, gave to Israel the divine commandments. It ended as Stephen, his face also aglow with heaven’s glory, charged Israel with breaking these commandments. And the record regarding Stephen is no less significant that that regarding Moses. “And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

And this man, with shining countenance, closed his address with the words: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53).

But the glory departed from Stephen’s face too; not because of any failure from him, but because of their wickedness, for in response to these words they dragged him out and stoned him to death. And so the ministration of the Law had indeed ended in gloom.

But Israel could not—and cannot yet—see it. As the apostle states: Though the veil is off Moses’ face, it is still upon their hearts (v.15). They do not see that the Law can only condemn them.

“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:3-4).

But God is not today demanding obedience and prescribing penalties for disobedience. He is rather imparting life, through the Spirit, “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” not bondage (v. 17).

The glory of this ministry will never fade. We may speak without reserve, not needing, as Moses did, a veil to hide the passing glory.

The glass here referred to (v.18) is, of course, a mirror. We look into it, not through it. This mirror, in which we behold Christ, is the Word. Nor is this the only passage in which the Word is called a mirror (see James 1:23-24).

In the divine Mirror we may behold ourselves, or we may behold Christ. It is well to use it first to behold ourselves and see the ruin sin has brought. but let us not stop here. Let a man look into a mirror and find a bright light in it and the glory will be reflected in his face. And so it is with the Word. When we see ourselves in it we must necessarily be disappointed, but when we look for Him in the Word and find Him there, His glory casts its reflection upon us!

What need have we then to hide our face? If David could say: “They looked unto Him, and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed (Psalm 34:5), how much more should this be said of us! … In our study of the Scriptures, we turn from the shame of man to the glory of Christ; as we behold Him and see all we have and are in Him, His glory is reflected in us and we become gradually more like Him, “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” — Stam, pages 67-71.

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2 Corinthians 3:7-11

But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,

how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?

For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.

10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.

11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

ministry (v.7) = service with a willing (voluntary) attitude, lit. “waiting at a table”

glory (v.7) = honor, renown, splendor, the unspoken manifestation of God.

exceeds (v.9) = abounds, overflows, exceeds the ordinary

passing away (v.11) = made idle, made of no effect, abolished

The ministry announcing death, i.e., “the Letter,” that is, the Law, came with glory—a glory so great that man could not look upon it, for it judged him, making him conscious that he was a sinner—but the ministry announcing life has so much more excellent a glory that it eclipses the glory of the former. The Law demanded righteousness; the Gospel provides righteousness. The Law bartered righteousness for obedience, and as that obedience was impossible to man, it was unobtainable by him; hence his condemnation to death. The Gospel provides man with a spotless righteousness as a free gift; hence the Gospel ministry of life. Man being guilty, his greatest need is righteousness. So the one was the ministration of condemnation; the other, the ministration of righteousness. Both were “with glory,” for they both express God’s moral glory demonstrated in judgment and in grace. Both demonstrations were Divinely necessary to the manifestation of that glory. — Williams, page 899.


The ministration of the Law began in a blaze of glory. Mt. Sinai was “altogether on a smoke … as the smoke of a furnace.” There were thunderings, lightnings and an earthquake, driving the people back. There was the sound of a trumpet, “exceeding loud.” There was the glorious Shekinah cloud in which God Himself appeared and literally “spake all these words” (Exodus 19:9–20:1).

But ere Moses had even come down from the Mount with the tables of stone, the people were breaking the very first commandment, dancing naked like heathen around a golden calf.

From here on, at the very outset, the law took on another aspect. Judgment had to be pronounced and penalties inflicted. Nor could any escape its just sentence of condemnation and death. What had begun in glory now lead only to gloom, “because the Law worketh wrath” (Romans 4:15).

But there can be no gloom associated with the administration of the New Covenant, says the apostle, for under it righteousness and life are ministered to all who will receive them by faith. This is because the claims of the Old Covenant were fully met by Christ at Calvary. Thus the ministration of the New Covenant outshines that of the Old in every respect.

If I light a lamp in a dark room at night the glory of the lamp will fill the room with light. But when the sun rises the glory of the lamp will fade until one can barely notice that it is lit. Thus the ministration of the Law has “no glory in this respect, by reason of” the infinite glory of the ministration of grace. — Stam, pages 65-66.

This whole section is part of a parentheses in which Paul details his message and explains how it’s different from the Old Covenant.

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2 Corinthians 3:4-6

And we have such trust through Christ toward God.

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

trust (v.4) = confidence

“The letter” is a Paulinism for the law, as “spirit” in these passages is his word for the relationships and powers of a new life in Christ Jesus. Here in chapter 3 is presented a series of contrasts between law and spirit, between the old covenant and the new. The contrast is not between two methods of interpretation, literal and spiritual, but between two methods of divine dealing: one, through the law; the other, through the Holy Spirit. — Scofield, page 1254.


Verse 5 of chapter 3 follows [2 Corinthians 2:16], and claims the sufficiency needed to be a competent preacher and incense-bearer. Paul was confident that in the sight of God he possessed that competency through Christ, though personally absolutely incompetent.

The First and Second Covenants are contrasted in verse 6. The First Covenant, that of the “Letter,” i.e., the Law, condemned to death because of man’s inability to keep it. The Second Covenant, that of the Spirit, proclaims life because of Christ’s ability to give it. The “Letter” killeth—that demonstrates its authority, its inspiration and its power—for were the letter of Scripture human writing it could not kill; the highest human literature has no such power. — Williams, page 899.

Naturally, seeing Paul call himself a minister of the New Covenant made me pause. Is the New Covenant made with us—believing Gentiles in the age of grace? I think Stam does a good job of explaining that, while the covenant was made with Israel and will be fulfilled with Israel after the rapture of the Church, still we benefit from those aspects of the covenant that were put into place with the death and resurrection of Christ.

The details of the New Covenant are outlined for us in Jeremiah 31:31-34, though the covenant is alluded to elsewhere in Jeremiah. This covenant is unique in several ways:

  1. It was promised about 600 years before Christ (Jeremiah 31:31).
  2. It was made at Calvary (Matthew 26:28), about 33 A.D.
  3. It will be fulfilled when Christ returns to reign over Israel and the world (Romans 11:26-27).

It is unique, also, in that it is the one Old Testament covenant that is entirely spiritual. There are no legal stipulations, nothing about sacrificial offerings, or holy days, or a land, a kingdom, or a throne, but only of the forgiveness of sins, of knowing the Lord, and of an imparted desire to do God’s will. …

What Israel failed to do under “the letter,” i.e., the Law, she will be impelled and enabled to do by the Spirit, when the Messiah returns. It should be noted that Peter at Pentecost said nothing about the New Covenant being fulfilled. …

With whom was the New Covenant made? “With the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). … But the apostle explains how it is that the New Testament affects the Gentile as well as the Jew.

With whom was the Old Covenant made? Clearly with “the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:3-5). Did it not, then, have any relation to the Gentiles? Yes it did, for we read in Romans 3:19 that “What things soever the Law saith, it saith to them that are under the Law: That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”

If God required of any group the righteous standards of the Old Covenant, the Law, that group would surely be condemned at the outset, for the apostle declares that “without” such “holiness, no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

But “the blood of the New Covenant” was shed, not only to redeem Israel, but to replace the Law with a “better” covenant.

Addressed to the Gentiles, Colossians 2:14 has our Lord “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.”

Indeed, referring to both the Old and New Covenants in Hebrews 8 the apostle declares: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for a second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:7-8).

And further on: “In that He saith, A New Covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).

This declaration by Paul shows that 600 years before Christ, when God first promised to make a New Covenant, the first had already grown old and ineffective. …

And so the Old Covenant, affecting both Jew and Gentile has, by the precious blood of Christ, been replaced by the New Covenant, also affecting both Jew and Gentile, for if the Gentile is condemned by the Law, the Old Covenant, He may also partake of the blessings of the New, for, “the blood of the New Covenant” was shed to remove the curse of the old. See Hebrews 2:9, where we read that our Lord was made for a little while lower than the angels “for the suffering of death … that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”

It also goes without saying that the blessings of the New Covenant are in fact bestowed upon believing Gentiles. … Do we not desire to obey God’s will (Romans 8:3-4). Is He not our God? Are we not His people? (Titus 2:14). Do we not know Him, from the least of us to the greatest of us? (Galatians 4:9). Has He not forgiven us our iniquities—”according to the riches of His grace“? (Ephesians 1:7). Will He ever remember our sins against us? (Ephesians 1:6).

Do we receive these blessings because they were in any way promised to us? No; what was promised to Israel, we receive by grace. We receive these blessings because “the blood of the New Covenant” was shed for the sins of the whole world, “that He might reconcile both [Jews and Gentiles] unto God in one Body by the cross” (Ephesians 2:16). — Stam, pages 61-64.

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2 Corinthians 3:1-3

1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;

clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

commend (v.1) = establish, lit. “stand together” in the sense of “lining up” with each other to support something.

ministered (v.3) = lit. “wait at a table,” particularly of a slave who waits on guests, serve

tablets of stone (v.3) — The 10 Commandments. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them” (Exodus 24:12).

[Paul] did not need, as other preachers did, including Apollos (see Acts 18:27), letters of commendation, for the Corinthians themselves were his letters of commendation; and he affectionately adds that that letter was written in his heart, and that it was written in such large letters that it was known and read of all men. That is, the Corinthians made so public a profession of Christ that they were a large-type letter written by Christ. But the apostle’s ministry (v.3) had won them to Christ, therefore they by their Christian life and testimony commended him as a true preacher of the Gospel. He spoke of Christ sincerely, without adulterating the truth, as being sent by God, and as laboring in the continual consciousness of the presence of God (see 2 Corinthians 2:17).

Not upon dead cold stone but on the living affections of warm hearts, Christ wrote that letter with the Spirit of the Living God. — Williams, pages 898-899.

It was after Christ and His kingdom had been finally rejected and had sent Stephen back to God with the message, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” that God did a wonderful thing. Rather than judging Israel and the world, he saved Saul, the leader of the rebellion and appointed him an apostle to preach to all men “the gospel of the grace of God.” It was through this other apostle that the present dispensation of grace was ushered in. How far out of the way, then, were the recalcitrant Corinthians in implying that Paul was not an apostle because he was not one of the twelve, or that he should have come with “letters of commendation,” indeed, should have asked them for letters of commendation upon leaving them to minister in other areas.

Letters of commendation? What greater letter of commendation could [Paul] have had than the Corinthian Church itself, doubtless the largest of all the churches he had founded. “Need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?” he asks. — Stam, page 60.

The Lord’s people are a letter from Christ, penned by the Holy Spirit, addressed to all the world. Thus we should not only proclaim His grace to all, but live the life as well (see Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 2:6). Remember, we ourselves are the only gospel some people read with any care. — Stam, page 60.

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2 Corinthians 2:14-17

14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.

triumph (v.14) = lead around, make a show, lead one as my prisoner in a triumphal procession

Now, thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in the Christ and makes known the aroma of the experiential knowledge of himself through us in every place, because a fragrance of Christ we are to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one, an odor proceeding from death resulting in death, and to the other, an aroma proceeding from life resulting in life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many who are adulterating the word of God, but as of an unadulterated, unsullied purity of character, but as from God we are speaking in the sight of God in Christ. — Wuest, page 420.

[Paul] comforted himself [for having to leave Troas and being concerned with the Corinthians—vs.12-13] with the knowledge that continually and everywhere he was being led in triumph by God in Christ; that he was Christ’s willing captive; that both he and his message were a sweet savour of Christ to God; that he was a faithful preacher of the Gospel—not adulterating it as many did—and that though incompetent in himself to originate any spiritual matter, yet he had been made fully competent by God for the ministry of His Word.

The scene before the Apostle’s mind was evidently that of a Roman triumph. The advent and the presence of the victorious general were announced by slaves scattering sweet odours all along the historic way that ended at the Capitol. The victor was followed by a multitude of captives, some destined to life, others to death. On reaching the Capitol those doomed to death were slain; those assured of life, liberated. The glory of the conqueror was published by the condemnation of the one group and by the liberation of the other.

The odour of the incense was a savour of death to the captives condemned to death, and of life to the captives ordained to life. The glory of Christ is the subject and purpose of the Gospel. It announces everlasting destruction to those who refuse to obey it (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) but eternal salvation to those who accept it (1 Thessalonians 5:9). A Gospel that excludes either of these doctrines is a false Gospel—it is not a sweet savour of Christ to God—and it does not glorify, but, on the contrary, it dishonours Him. — Williams, page 898.

Who is sufficient? (v.16) — Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

sufficient (v.16) = sufficiently strong, worthy, suitable

of sincerity (v.17) — 2 Corinthians 1:12

“For we,” [Paul] says, “are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, i.e., when we proclaim the good news about Christ, it is like a sweet fragrance to God; He is pleased.

And, says the apostle, this applies whether we preach Christ to those who are saved or to those who perish. God is vindicated in either case. Our success or failure, i.e., the results of our preaching, in no wise affect the fact that we are always victorious if we preach Christ in truth. It is not success, but faithfulness that pleases God.

But note: It is not merely the mention of Christ that pleases the Father, but the proclamation of the blessed truth that He died for our sins and arose again as our living Savior. This is clearly stated in Ephesians 5:2: “… Christ also hath loved us and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” — Stam, page 55-56.

Is the apostle asking who is “sufficient” to comprehend these things? By no means. He asks, rather, who is equal to such responsibilities. What manner of preacher ought he to be who preaches a gospel that may determine the eternal destiny of some of his hearers, indeed, that may prove fatal to some who come in contact with it?

Surely Paul did not consider himself “sufficient for these things.” In the very next chapter, verse 5, he says: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” — Stam, page 57

The Greek kapeluontes means literally “making gain by corrupting,” and is rendered variously as “peddling an adulterated message,” “bartering the Word of God,” “trying to make a petty profit out of the Word of God,” “a peddler of God’s message,” and (mostly), “corrupting the Word of God.” It appears evident that the word came to be used of the tricks used by petty peddlers or hucksters to sell their goods, and thus of any corruption for base gain.

Paul was by no means a petty peddler of the Word, “but as of sincerity, but as of God in the sight of God,” he says, “speak we in Christ.” And, certainly, his message was not cheap. — Stamp, page 58.

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2 Corinthians 2:12-13

12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord,

13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.

To the simple matter of a journey from Toras to Philippi was, as always with Paul, lifted up into the highest realm of the Divine purposes and activities. As a proof of his deep affection for the Corinthians, he left a delightful field of Gospel success at Troas, and hastened to Macedonia to meet Titus and hear news of them (2 Corinthians 7:6-7). The principle here appears that shepherding the sheep is more important than preaching the Gospel. But it was painful to him to discontinue preaching at Troas, and to leave people who were willing to listen to, and to obey the Gospel. — Williams, page 898

Paul doubtless wrote the above verses to show how strong was his feeling of concern and responsibility toward his Corinthians friends, yet they do raise a serious question. Did he fail, or disobey God by leaving Troas (where the Lord  had opened a door to him) simply because of his own personal feelings toward the Corinthians?

He had visited Troas once before, only to have God call him away by the “Macedonian Vision,” in which he saw a man from Macedonia pleading, “Come over into Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

Could it be that he now chose Troas as a field in which to “preach Christ’s gospel,” because he had had to leave them the first time? Indeed, we must not forget, in connection with the “Madeconian Vision,” that at this juncture he had been “forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the Word in Asia,” and when “they assayed to go into Bithynia … the Spirit suffered them not” (Acts 16:6-7). And then, at Troas, the “Macedonian Vision” had called him away. Evidently, for God’s own reasons, that whole area was not to have the gospel preached to them at that time. Rather, Paul was called into Europe.

But the situation was not entirely the same now, for Paul assures us that when he reached Troas, “a door was opened unto me of the Lord” to “preach Christ’s gospel.” This must mean that the Lord opened hearts to give him an interested hearing, but he explains that he had no rest in his spirit, because of his failure to find Titus, with news from Corinth. Thus, he had left Troas to go into Macedonia in search of Titus.

Was Paul disobedient to God in not remaining at Troas when God Himself had opened a door to him to preach the gospel there? … Paul [was] so troubled in spirit that it had hindered his preaching of the good news he had come to bring. He could not find Titus, whom he had expected to meet there on his return from Corinth, and he could not rest until he knew how the Corinthian brethren were doing. his responsibility toward them weighed heavily on his heart. Thus every day he grew more deeply concerned that Titus did not appear and, “taking leave,” of the brethren at Troas, he went into Macedonia where, evidently, he hoped to find Titus—and did. If only the Corinthians had known how heavily their welfare weighed upon his heart.

Let us not assume, however, that nothing was accomplished during Paul’s brief stay at Troas, much less entertain the notion that he spent virtually no time there. He does not say, “I did not stop at Troas.” Indeed, from Acts 20:6-7 we learn that he “abode there seven days,” and that “on the first day of the week,” (his last day there) “Paul preached unto them … and continued his speech until midnight.” This was when the young man fell out of the third story window, was killed, and then raised from the dead by Paul (vs.8-10). And then they all talked together “a long while, even till the break of day” (v.11), when he had to hurry to Macedonia to seek Titus.

So it is a mistake to suppose that Paul completely failed to enter the door that the Lord had opened to him. … Clearly, Paul had regretted that it had become necessary to leave the people at Troas for the second time, but in the week that God did give him there, he surely made good use of the opportunity, toiling tirelessly to bring them to Christ and to establish them in the faith. — Stam, page 51-53.

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2 Corinthians 2:5-11

But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.

This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,

so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.

Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.

For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.

10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ,

11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

The statement in verse 5 appears to mean that the evil teaching of the wrong-doer did not grieve Paul only but also the Corinthians; and so he generously disclaimed any intention of charging them with sympathy with the evil. On the contrary he recognizes them as partners, i.e. as having “part” with him in the sorrow.

“In the person of Christ” (v.10), i.e., as Christ’s apostolic representative invested by Him with punitive power. — Williams, page 898.

severe (v.5) = to put a burden on

comfort (v.7) = lit. “to call to one’s side”

swallowed (v.7) = devoured, consumed

test (v.9) = prove, approved

Paul longed to know assuredly, from Titus’ own testimony, whether the Corinthian believers were now “obedient in all things.” To discipline the immoral brother was an important responsibility, but now that he had so heartily repented, did they forgive him? This was no less important—and no less a responsibility. Also, they had accepted Paul’s rebuke of their own permissiveness—his case against them was so unanswerable—but was their attitude toward him now what it should be toward a God-appointed apostle?

He assures them that he has forgiven the repentant backsliders among them for their sakes “in the person of Christ,” i.e., representing Christ. But he did this expecting them to join him, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.”

Satan accomplishes his aims through “wiles” and “devices.” If he cannot defeat us through inducing us to condone evil, he will do so by instilling a self-righteousness that looks down on the fallen brother and refuses to forgive him when restored. — Stam, page 50.

devices (v.11) = schemes, purposes, designs

I believe it is generally thought that the man Paul referred to in these verses who should be forgiven is the one he wrote about in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

That man had now repented of his sin, but the members of the church who were slow to punish him were now refusing to stop punishing him.

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2 Corinthians 2:1-4

1 But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.

For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?

And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all.

For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.

But I decided this in my own interest, and for my own sake, not to come again to you in grief. For, as for myself, if, as is the case, I cause you grief, who then is he who makes me joyful except the one who was made to grieve by me? And I wrote this very thing, lest, when I came, I should have grief from those whom it was a necessity in the nature of the case to be making to rejoice, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of all of you, for out of a source of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you through many tears, and not in order that you may be made to grieve, but in order that you may come to know experientially the sacrificial love which I have so abundantly for you. — Wuest, page 419.

This second epistle was written rather than paying the church a visit at this time, when so many were still defiant. Indeed, in his closing words the apostle says: “Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord has give me to edification, and not to destruction” (2 Corinthians 13:10). — Stam, page 47.

[The first] letter, though effective in many ways, had not brought about full restoration. Thus, rather than visiting them now and risking negative results, he was led to write them a second letter, doubtless praying that the further delay in visiting them might provide an occasion for intervening grace to do its work.

The argument in verse 2 is that he ought to be rejoicing in their spiritual restoration and progress, but if the obstinate continuance of some in their permissive ways should call for his rebuke, and cause them sorrow, who then would bring him joy? If his rebuke should discourage them, who would encourage him? Obviously such encouragement could only come from those who had been “made sorry” by him! But it did not follow that if he made them “sorry” they would sincerely repent and make him glad.

If he came to Corinth again and still saw there the blighting effects of party strife, fleshly lusts, and indulgence in worldly pleasures, he would again suffer sorrow from those over whom he “ought to rejoice,” and nothing would satisfy him but their joy in Christ. Thus he writes in the confidence that “my joy is the joy of you all,” that they understood that his aim was the removal of that which had not only grieved him, but had brought sorrow to them all.

In verse 4 he shows by example how church leaders and Christian assemblies should exercise discipline. His first letter and especially his instructions about the man living brazenly in incest had not revealed harsh pride but sorrow and loving concern, and when sincere repentance had resulted his appeal was: “Forgive him heartily, and restore him to full fellowship” (vs. 6-7). — Stam, pages 48-49

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2 Corinthians 1:21-24

21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God,

22 who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

23 Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth.

24 Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.

establishes (v.21) = confirms, secures, make sure — lit. “to walk where it is solid”

anointed (v.21) = consecrated, to clothe with the Holy Spirit

has sealed (v.22) = has (past tense) sealed to attest ownership and the full security carried by the owner

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul corrected the believers because they were falling short in several areas. He wrote, “What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Corinthians 4:21). Now (v.23), he told them that he avoided coming to “spare” them—because if he had come, it would have to be with a rod.

dominion (v.24) = to rule over, have authority over, to exercise rights over. Paul was  saying that the faith of the Corinthians was not his to determine. It had been established by God and sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Now, He who is constantly confirming us more firmly in our position in and union with Christ [in conforming us to His likeness] and who anointed us is God, who also placed His seal upon us and gave us the token payment guaranteeing the payment in full of our salvation, which token payment is the Spirit in our hearts. Moreover, as for myself, I call God as a witness against my soul (if I am speaking falsely] that to spare you, I did not come as yet to Corinth, not that we have lordship over your faith, but that we are co-workers in producing your joy; for by faith you stand. — Wuest, pages 418-419.

The One who establishes us—all of us—in Christ, says the apostle, is God, and it is He who “anoints,” or consecrates us to His service.

Furthermore, God has “sealed us.” Our failures notwithstanding, He has placed His stamp of approval, His seal of acceptance upon us, so that we may say with Paul: “It is God that justifieth, who is He that condemneth?” (Romans 8:33-34).

But there is more: God has also “given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (v.22), the “down payment” on greater blessings purchased for us, for ere long we shall be wholly under His control. Blessed prospect!

In two other passages the apostle uses this terminology: once with regard to the immortality of believers, and once concerning our present security in Christ:

For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:4-5)

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

It is against this background that the apostle says, “I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet to Corinth” (v.23).

He does not mean; indeed, against the background of vs. 21-22, he could not mean, “I call upon God to take vengeance on my soul if I lie.” Rather he calls upon God in a prayer to confirm to these Corinthians the validity of his defense.

Clearly, the course the apostle had followed in this matter was no chosen that he might exercise lordship of them, but to promote their greatest welfare. Had the former been the case, he doubtless would have appeared among them exercising the severest apostolic discipline. But it was by faith alone that they must stand, not by apostolic decree. And standing for God and His truth by faith does indeed bring with it the greatest spiritual blessing. —Stam, pages 45-46.

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2 Corinthians 1:15-20

15 Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice.

16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea.

17 Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?

18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”

19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.”

20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

benefit (v.15) = a token or proof of grace, a gift of grace

fickle (v.17) = levity, lightness, of little weight

worldly manner (v.17) = according to the flesh, human nature

glory (v.20) = honor, renown, splendor

In … confidence in their affection [Paul] planned to visit Corinth; from thence to pass into Macedonia; then to return to Corinth; and from there to set out for Judea—so giving them a double “benefit.” … The Apostle was not guilty of fickleness of purpose because he changed his plans. He was not like men of the world who say “Yes, Yes,” but in action say “No, No”; but just as God is faithful to His “yea” so was the Apostle. … His argument was—how could he act with fickleness when he proclaimed a God that is faithful to His promises; and he reminds them that, let the promises of God be never so many, yet are they all reliable for they are all deposited in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the great “Yes” of these promises.

The promises under the first covenant were deposited in man and depended for realization upon his obedience. There was of course complete failure; but [now] the promises … are all given to Christ, and their realization depends upon Him. There can, therefore, be no failure, for His is the “Amen” as well as the “Yea,” i.e., He is the Performer as well as the Promiser and all His actions in relation to these promises has for its aim the glory of God. — Williams, page 897.

Important circumstances, including their sad state, had prevented him from coming to them sooner. But on the other hand, he insists that he did not make his plans “according to the flesh,” and then stand by them just to prove his own integrity. He sought leading from God, who knows the end from the beginning and leads His children one step at a time. He never needs to change His mind, but they may.

The apostle names Silas and Timothy, who had faithfully labored in their midst, and declares that he and they had not preached to them a “yes” and “no” gospel., but a very positive one, centered in Christ, who is the “yea” and “amen” (yes and so be it) of all God’s promises. — Stam, page 44.

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