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 not 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.