2 Corinthians 5:1-4

1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,

if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.

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.

The “for” at the beginning of v.1 refers back to 4:18 where Paul wrote, “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen …His statement in 5:1 explains his statement in 4:18.

For we know that if our house of this present tent-life on earth be taken down, a building from God we have, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed, in this  [tent] we are groaning, longing to be clothed in addition with our house which is from heaven, seeing that also, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked [a disembodied spirit]. For indeed, we being in this tent, are groaning, being weighed down because we do not desire to be unclothed [divested of our mortal body] but clothed upon [invested with our heavenly body], in order that that which is mortal may be swallowed up by the life. — Wuest, page 423.

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He who lives a life of faith and not of sight (v.7) will be able to say “I know” (vs.1-6) and “I am always confident” (vs.6 and 8), for faith makes Divine facts real, and illumines the mind with certitude.

Satan and men might do their best to destroy the clay-tent (v.4) in which Paul lived, but that did not trouble him; for he knew he had not a “tent” but a “house,” a building from God, not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.

But he did not desire to be disembodied, but, on the contrary, to be alive at the coming of the Lord, so that his mortal body might be clothed upon by his immortal body, and so mortality be swallowed up of life. He groaned in his mortal body for it was burdened with pain and mortality, but he knew that the faithful God who wrought his house for him (v.1) wrought him for it (v.5), and as an earnest and pledge of the double fact, had given him His Holy Spirit. — Williams, page 901.

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The body in which “the inner man” now resides is fragile, perishing, often a burden and a temptation, for since the fall it has not been conductive to spiritual living. But the new and glorified body will be forever free from any tendency toward sin, sorrow, or death. — Stam, page 96.

The following paragraphs, in part, are Stam’s rebuttal to Lewis Sperry Chafer’s belief that believers with get a temporary body between the time that their earthly body dies and they receive their glorified, eternal body in heaven. A variation of this view was taught to me long ago—that we received “a” body upon death, but that at the resurrection, some bit, some seed, from our earthy bodies would become part of our heavenly body and then become our glorified, eternal body. But when my father died, and I pondered death and what it means to the believer, I began wondering if—since heaven is outside of time—we all arrive at the same moment and receive our glorified, eternal bodies together. Stam believes this view.

It is clear that the apostle longed, not for death, but for the Rapture of believers, when “mortality” will be “swallowed up of life,” an event which he deemed to be near at hand (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). But it is also clear that “this [present] tabernacle” may be “dissolved,” in which case the “inner man” would leave the body and go to be with Christ. But there is an important truth about this eventuality that Dr. Chafer seems to have missed. Time is no factor in heaven. — Stam, page 96.

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The apostle was not longing for death and the dissolution of his body; he groaned and longed for the Lord to give him his new, glorified body. But Paul who said, “to die is gain” knew that if his tent body were dissolved he would be going to meet the blessed One who had a new glorified body for him, “mortality swallowed up of life”: Christ’s life. and this, not after many years, for there are no years in heaven. Indeed, the fact that Paul longed, not to go to be with Christ in a disembodied state, but to go to Christ to receive a glorified body, is evident from his words in Romans 8:22-23:

For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

Mark well, even we ourselves groan … and wait,” for what? For death and dismemberment? No! For “the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

And this new, glorified body will not be “made with hands,” i.e., a human product, like the tents Paul toiled day after day to make. It will be a divine creation, “eternal in the heavens.”

So we are destined for glory … greater than the highest archangel will ever know. Let us then press forward, if “groaning,” also “longing” for the wonderful things promised to us in His Word.

“… If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17).

Once we see that time is not a factor in heaven, that all there is is an eternal present, 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 become clear….

1 Corinthians 15:54 deals with the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the transformation of the living saints. Concerning the dead in Christ he says: “… this corruptible shall have put on incorruptibility.”

But referring to the living saints, he says: “And this mortal shall put on immortality.”

Note this carefully: “this mortal” refers, not to the dead, but to those who are “apt to die,” as all living saints are. And when shall these receive their glorified bodies? Immediately! They will go immediately from mortality to immortality, though some of the dead in Christ will have been “with Him” for many years: Paul and his comrades for almost two millenniums of time on earth. Stam, pages 97-99.

So, the whole picture we have of people we know who have died strolling around in heaven chatting with each other and waiting for us is almost certainly a misunderstanding of the concept of time and eternity. Rather, i believe, all who have trusted Christ will arrive at the same moment together.

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2 Corinthians 4:16-18

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.

17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,

18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

The “therefore” in v.16 refers back to Paul’s statement that his ministry of grace is spreading to his readers and bringing glory to God. Therefore, he does not lose heart even though he is persecuted.

lose heart (v.16) = lit. “to be negatively influenced with the outcome of experiencing inner weariness,” exhausted, weary, faint.

The Scriptures consistently teach that there is an inward man and an outward man, though we should know this from observation and experience. … The apostle declares that his persecutions have not caused him to faint, for while “the outward man” indeed “perishes,” “the inward man is renewed day by day.”

All men everywhere: rich as well as poor, educated as well as illiterate, the mighty ruler as well as the poor slave: all are perishing creatures. … People who believe the Bible have no trouble understanding this, for they recognize the truth of God’s Word as to the fall of man. Thus they can quote Hebrews 9:27-28 …: “And AS it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: SO Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without [apart from] sin unto salvation.”

Thank God, the believer in Christ does not need to “block out” the thought of a perishing body. He knows that our blessed Lord died our death for sin at Calvary. “… that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). …

Thank God, while the outward man is being steadily dissolved, “the inward man,” the real you, may be, and should be, “renewed day by day.” But how is this accomplished? The answer is simple, but there is no other way. We are spiritually renewed only as we take the time for Bible study and prayer. — Stam, pages 85-87.

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Affliction vs Glory: No one but our Lord Himself can fully grasp v.17, for only He left the glories of heaven, where all was harmony and angels rushed to do His bidding, to experience the disharmony and rebellion of this sin-cursed world. But in the ages to come we, redeemed sinners, will share His glory as He shared our shame. Thus Paul could say: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Note carefully: this glory to come will not merely be revealed “to us” but “in us.” We shall be glorified. What an investment, then, is the present affliction!

Lightness vs. Weight: Galatians 6:2 and 5 declare in our English translation that we should “bear one another’s burdens,” yet also that “every man shall bear his own burden.” Is this a contradiction? Perhaps in the translation, but certainly not in the original language. True, if we obeyed both these injunctions even as they appear in the English, our happiness would be greatly increased. However, the two Greek words for “burden,” here, have a marked difference in significance. In v.2 the word is baros, denoting heaven pressure, while in v.5 is it phortion, and allotted load, whether heavy or light. Thus our Lord could say: “Take my yoke upon you … for My yoke is easy and My burden [phortion] is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). How different was Peter’s admonition at the great Jerusalem Council, concerning the Law, particularly as administered by the rulers then in high places. How he warned his hearers lest they place a yoke upon the neck of the disciples “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

Phortion was used of the contents of a soldier’s knapsack whether full or empty; also of a ship’s cargo, whether heavy or light. I.e., it had to do with an allotted load, entirely without regard to weight.

However, in 2 Corinthians 4:17 we have to do with a “weight” [baros] of glory“!—glory which must indeed weigh heavily against the “light affliction”  we presently bear. What a prospect! An eternal weight of glory!

Momentariness vs Eternity: A “moment” is the briefest period of time. It is not a minute, or even a second, but an instant. Our afflictions, which now can see so endless are, in their true perspective, only momentary. When we have attained to the glory to come we shall see the former afflictions in their proper dimension: as only “for a moment,” or an instant.” Yet these momentary afflictions work for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory! …

A whole long life of affliction and suffering, when viewed in the light of eternity will then be correctly seen as but momentary. But where are present experience is concerned this is even more so, for God has graciously provided that our afflictions come to us only one moment at a time; one moment after another. Thus the present moment of sadness we suffer now will have been gone for one week seven days from now. We are not asked to bear this moment’s suffering for more that this one moment. Thus we seek God’s help “moment by moment.” For this present life the passing of time is a blessed provision.

Insignificance vs That Which Exceeds Far More: Note the meaning of the word “but” here. It is not a conjunction (as in, “not this but that”). It rather carries the sense of “merely,” as in, “but one step.” By using this word the apostle discounts our present afflictions as hardly worth considering. They are “but for a moment,” or “merely momentary.”

Yet, in an amazing contrast he declares that these afflictions which last “but for a moment,” work for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”! What a contrast between the insignificant instant and its gracious “earnings,” which exceed far more!

The Visible vs. The Invisible: The apostle rightly declares that “the things which are seen are temporal.” All we can see and feel and touch will eventually pass away. … “But that which is not seen is eternal.” Love, sincerity, honesty, faithfulness, all those qualities which are unseen (except indirectly) are eternal.

Not Looking vs Looking: Mark well, the apostle does not say, “We see the things which are not seen”; he says, “We look at the things which are not seen.” This is important. The Greek word skopeo means to consider or keep in view. Paul did not fix his spiritual eyes, or his attention, upon “the things which are seen,” for he knew they would soon pass away. He “looked,” rather, “at the things which are not seen,” and rightly so. Concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, Peter wrote: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

And concerning “those things which are above,” Paul himself says: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3). …

Occupation with “the things that are seen,” with “things on the earth,” is bound to spell spiritual defeat, while occupation with “the things which are not seen,” with “those things which are above” will as surely spell spiritual victory, and — what an investment! —Stam, pages 88-94.

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2 Corinthians 4:13-15

13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak,

14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.

15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.

The quote in v.13, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” is from Psalm 116:10.

Again, the “we” in verse 13 and the “us” in verse 14 are referring to Paul and those ministering with him.

The preacher and his message occupy a large portion of this letter because popular teachers at Corinth were corrupting the Gospel, and their followers were denying that Paul was either an Apostle or a preacher. — Williams, page 900.

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The Spirit of faith in the fact and hope of the resurrection, which animated the Apostle in the endurance of these sufferings, was the same Spirit that animated the Messiah in His sufferings for truth [as seen in Psalm 116]. Believing and speaking belong one to the other. The Apostle was certain that he and his Corinthian converts would be raised from the dead and would stand together in the presence chamber of the King (v.14), and therefore, like the Messiah, he testified because he believed. He knew that He Who raised up Jesus from among the dead would surely raise him up also. The distinction between Christ’s sufferings for truth at the hands of man, and His sufferings in Atonement at the hands of God, must ever be preserved. Paul could share the former with Him, but not the latter.

Like his Master he suffered “all these things” for their sakes (v.15) that grace might abound to them, and that they might have a life of joy and thanksgiving; but all the glory of such grace should be wholly given to God and nothing attributed to him. — Williams, page 901.

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The word “redound” [abound], here means to return in abundant overflow, like the incoming tide. Thus “the abundant grace” of God to us, should, “through the thanksgiving of many,” return in a refreshing overflow “to the glory of God.” — Stam, page 85.

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2 Corinthians 4:7-12

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—

10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.

treasure (v.7) = stored-up treasures, collected treasures (see Wuest’s expanded translation below)

excellence (v.7) = excess, preeminence, exceeding, lit. “a throwing beyond.”

perplexed (v.8) = at a lost, in doubt

despair (v.8) = without resources, without exit, having no way out.

forsaken (v.9) = left behind, abandoned

manifested (v.10) = made clear, made known

For we have this treasure [the reflection of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ] in earthenware containers, in order that the super-excellence of the power might be from God as a source and not from us. We are being hard pressed from every side, but we are not hemmed in. We are bewildered, not knowing which way to turn, but not utterly destitute of possible measures or resources. We are being persecuted, but not left in the lurch, not abandoned, not let down. We are being knocked down, but not destroyed, always bearing about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus in order that the life of Jesus might be clearly and openly shown in our mortal body. So that death is operative in us but the life is operative in you. — Wuest, page 422.

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In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul was writing about his own ministry, as seen, for example, in verses 1 and 5. So, the “we” in verses 7-11 refers to Paul and those in ministry with him too, although the truth is applicable to all who minister.

God does not deposit “the riches of His grace” in golden receptacles or steel coffers. He does not commit them to angels or archangels, but to men, frail, fragile men, albeit redeemed by the blood of Christ.

Again, Paul is our example in this, for in Ephesians 3:8 he says: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Indeed, he states in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 that God has “chosen” the foolish, the weak, the base, those that “are not,” “to bring to nought the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence,” and this is exactly what is taught here in 2 Corinthians 4:7. …

Note the words “on every side.” he was surrounded by trouble; yet the Lord did not allow it to smother or crush him. God always said to His enemies, as it were: “Thus far and no farther.”

Often he was “perplexed,” experiencing the truth of Romans 8:26: “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Yet he was never in “despair,” for he well knew the truth of the foregoing passage and was wholly willing to leave the outcome in the loving hands of Him who worketh all things together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

The apostle was often persecuted, but never forsaken. He had learned the value of Christian friends, and walked daily in fellowship with God.

Often he had been “cast down,” but never had he been “destroyed.” There may be an allusion here to the boxer, for Paul, in his writings, uses many of these metaphors from the games and public life of the Roman world. In that case this may be an allusion to the boxer: knocked down, but not out. In any case, the apostle had come through many adversities, but by the grace of God was still “fighting the good fight of the faith.” — Stam, pages 80-81.

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[Paul] had little in this life; he longed for the resurrection life of Christ in glory. And little wonder, for he here describes himself as “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,” and “always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake,” and this, “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body,” and “in our mortal flesh.” How he longed to share the fellowship of our Lord’s sufferings, that he might impart to them, now, while “in the flesh,” the life of Christ. Indeed, he died a thousand deaths that they  might have life. …

God will not allow men to boast in His presence. He saves us freely, “by grace, through faith … lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He chooses the weak and commits His message of grace to earthen vessels, so often using men with little or none of this world’s qualifications, so that it will be evident that the victory was His, not theirs. — Stam, pages 82-83.

What Paul is saying in v.12 is that His ministry would result in death for him but eternal life for those who heard and believed what he said.

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2 Corinthians 4:3-6

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,

whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

perishing (v.3) — with the sense that the resultant death is certain — permanent, absolute destruction, to cancel out, to destroy utterly

glory (v.3) = honor, renown, the manifestation of God, splendor

However clearly the Gospel may be preached it is veiled to them that are perishing; and Satan as the god of this world spreads that veil (vs. 3-4) lest the bright sunshine of the Gospel of the glory of Christ—Who is in nature and essence One with God—should shine upon them.

The Apostle was not guilty of that blindness (v.5), for he preached Jesus as being Jehovah. … So the glory of God was fully revealed in the face of Jesus Christ—it was unveiled—and the Apostle Paul as a true minister of that glory proclaimed it to the world without a veil in his clear and full preaching. he announced the glory of God in the Person of Christ. — Williams, page 900.

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Note how all through Paul’s epistles he emphasizes the unique character of the message committed to him. In v.3 it is not “the gospel,” but “our gospel.” Paul, by the grace of God, and no one until Paul, proclaimed complete salvation through the finished, all-sufficient work of Christ in dying our death at Calvary.

Appropriately he designates this message “the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Before Paul the cross was spoken of as a thing of shame, the place where Christ was slain by wicked murderers. Thus the charges and warnings of Peter’s Pentecostal message. But Paul’s “preaching of the cross,” is distinctly good news. It reveals the Christ of Calvary, not as a Victim but as a mighty Victor, gloriously accomplishing what He had set out to do. Hebrews 1:3 expresses it beautifully: “Who being the brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Here we have no one slaying Christ. Rather He, the Almighty One, purges our sins “by Himself” and, the work done, He sits down at the Father’s right hand. — Stam, page 75-76.

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Mark well, the lost are the willing dupes of Satan. He is called the “god” of this world, or age. He was “cast out” at Calvary (John 12:31), and Christ would have replaced him as the Prince of this world had Israel accepted Him (Acts 3:19-21), but Israel and the world worshiped Satan, were led by him and walked in his ways. Thus, today, the Lord Jesus Christ is rejected and Satan remains the prince, yes, the god of this age, all by the will of man and the sufferance of God.

This being the case, the “god of this age” has an easy time “blinding the minds of them that believe not” to keep the light of the glory of Christ from shining in. How fitting, then, for the apostle to continue: “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” Paul did not preach himself, much less ask others to be good and do good to make themselves acceptable to God. No, his constant theme was Christ and His all-sufficient satisfaction for sin: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block 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 Corinthians 1:23-24).

And in proclaiming this message he was their “servant for Jesus’ sake.” — Stam, pages 78-79.

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The same God who caused light to shine through the stygian darkness of a ruined universe simply by His Word, is the God who speaks spiritual light into the hearts of believers: light that “gives the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” When that light shone into Paul’s heart, it was because he had seen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8), and we are similarly blessed when we see Christ in the Word. Finally, note that we receive “the knowledge of the glory of God” as we behold “the face of Jesus Christ.”

It is as we behold a man’s face that there is recognition, mutual understanding, a true meeting together, and thus it is when we behold the face of Jesus in the study of the Word. We know Him, we love Him, we trust Him, and long for the day when we shall see Him in glory. — Stam, pages 78-79.

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2 Corinthians 4:1-2

1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.

But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

craftiness (v.2) = cunning, stopping at nothing to achieve a selfish goal

deceitfully (v.2) = (lit.) to lure by using bait, to ensnare

manifestation (v.2) = disclosure, coming to light

conscience (v.2) — with the idea of innate discernment, self-judging

In other words, Paul said he wasn’t using Scripture to manipulate anyone. He was just speaking the truth and allowing his hearer’s innate discernment (and the Holy Spirit) to convince them of the truth.

Resuming the subject of his office as a minister of the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the Apostle points out that, before receiving this ministry, the mercy which it proclaims must be received—that is, that the preacher must have first himself consciously accepted as a sinner God’s pardoning mercy in Christ before he can announce it to others; and he adds that the doctrine of a risen Savior makes the preacher victorious over all the fear of death, and over all the sufferings possible of infliction upon the “earthen vessel” in which the gospel treasure is carried. — Williams, page 900.

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There was much now to cause the apostle to faint and to tempt him to give up. Turn to 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 and note the fearful persecutions which he had already by then endured.

There is a great lesson for us here, for Satan hates grace and does all in his power to oppose it. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 15:58 deals directly with this tendency on our part to become discouraged and give up: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, by ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

We find more such encouragement in Galatians 6:9, where the apostle urges us: “Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.”

Notice carefully: “We shall reap if we faint not.” Often, to be sure, one sows and another reaps, and both will be rewarded for their labors, but often Christians fail to reap the spiritual fruit of their labors because they have become discouraged and faint. But here we have God’s unfailing promise that “we shall reap if we faint not.” — Stam, pages 72-73.

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Craftiness: [In today’s church] interdemoninational boards must have at least an understanding among them that it is best not to discuss certain Bible subjects. this policy of tacitly classing such subjects as water baptism taboo is thought necessary simply because “an interdenominational organization is impossible without compromise.” There are many more forms of this sin, but this is one that has gained respectability and is widely defended. — Stamp, page 74

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Paul got his message across by “manifestation of the truth.” There was no human philosophy, no psychological approach, no sophistry, no appeal to tradition. he simply related to his hearers what God says and as the Holy Spirit applied the Word, hearts were convicted and souls saved. — Stam, page 74.

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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.

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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.

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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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