2 Corinthians 7:2-7, 13b-16

2 Corinthians 7:2-7, 13b-16

Make Room!

I don’t know about you, but when I read this letter of Paul’s to the Corinthians, I get the impression that I’m watching a relationship go through its ups and downs, and at the end of each chapter, I’m left asking, “Will they ever get back together?” Ross and Rachel, anyone? It’s not unlike watching a TV show where some friends have a particular conflict that tries their relationship and that moves one of the parties away from the other, and the viewer is left wondering what will happen to the relationship. Is there room for Paul in the inn that is the hearts of the Corinthians? Have the Corinthians kicked him out for good? There’s good news in this chapter to suggest that they’re not a lost cause, nor that Paul has been defenestrated from the windows of their souls. The chapter, even though it begins highlighting much trouble, leads the reader to conclude that Paul and the Corinthians can have a happy ending after all. And we have Titus to thank for that. If you think that this is irrelevant to your life (because, well, who cares? Paul and the Corinthians are gone from the earth), their relationship was not dissimilar to the typical relationship that Christians have with each other. Granted, Paul was the apostle/ambassador of Christ, and the Corinthians were recipients of God’s revelation through Paul. However, at the end of the day, Paul was just one of them—one of us: a servant of Christ saved by grace through faith. There’s exhortation to be had by us all.

It may seem odd to have a blog post addressing the first and third portions of the chapter, while neglecting the middle third (vv. 8-13a). The reason for this unusual break-up is twofold. I see a similar theme working from start to finish in the letter and want to address that main idea in one fell swoop; and I want to zero-in on the middle section in a post on its own and address repentance.

There’s one major concern for Paul in chapter 7: his relationship with the Corinthians, and whether they will make room for him. In 7:2, Paul commands, “Make room for us” (the Greek has no word for “hearts” in verse 2, but the ESV inserts it because of 6:13 and 7:3). The command for the Corinthians to receive him is based on their reluctance or outright rejection of doing exactly that, depending on the individual Corinthian. In 6:12, for instance, Paul says, “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.” Then in the next verse, he exhorts them, “Widen your hearts also.” Before proceeding, let’s take a moment to point out the irony found between 6:11 and 7:2. Paul assures the Corinthians that he loves them dearly, that his heart is wide open to them. He then speaks about God indwelling believers (6:16). Paul has them in his heart (7:3), but they do not have him in theirs (7:2), basically denying the union they have with each other in Christ as God indwells them both. For Paul, therefore, to ask the Corinthians to make room for Paul is a sad testimony to some of the Corinthians’ practical rejection of Paul’s place in Christ. They’ve kicked him out of God’s presence! (That, or they’ve denied God’s indwelling them; but I suspect they’d sooner remove Paul than themselves.) They’ll take Christ in their hearts, but not Paul his apostle. Do we see how we are like the Corinthians in this way? We may think of those who get on our nerves, who are weird, or who are just different from us, “Yes, give me Christ. Him I need. But they can go.” Some in a congregation may even (without sound biblical reason) reject Christ’s gift to them in a faithful pastor and preacher. Christians are quick mentally or spatially to do away with other Christians (even in the same congregation), thereby essentially denying God’s indwelling them and gift to them in each other. May God guard our hearts from such division. May God open our hearts to each other!

Coming back to Paul’s command for the Corinthians to enlarge their lives to include Paul’s presence, we notice that Paul offers at least 5 reasons for reconciling the relationship (even harking back to his appeal in 5:20 and 6:1). We’ll look at each of them briefly. The first is that Paul has done no wrong to them (v. 2). He denies doing any injustice, corrupting anyone, and taking advantage of anyone. He’s presented the open statement of the truth, his concern is the Corinthians’ cleanness, not corruption, and he’s unlike those super-apostles who take advantage of the sheep of Christ. The Corinthians, therefore, have literally no good reason to close off their hearts from Paul et al. They have, truly, every reason to allot him more space in their hearts. Second, the Corinthians are already in Paul’s heart, so they should reciprocate (v. 3). Paul is in essence saying, “Even though we are not entirely in your hearts, that’s not going to stop us from receiving you in ours.” Do you see Christ’s love in that attitude of Paul’s? He’s treating them as he’d love to be treated. It takes God’s mighty work of grace in Paul’s heart for him to say something like that. Clearly, he wants the Corinthians to open their hearts to him. Therefore, he opens his to them. You know how challenging it is to move towards someone who’s not giving you an inch in the relationship. The Corinthians gave him few inches. But when Christ opens his heart to you, and when he opens your heart to his, you move towards others by grace.

Third, Paul is committed to live and die with the Corinthians (v. 3). Using terms of marital commitment, Paul’s saying to the Corinthians, “Till death do us part!” He has pledged his whole death-and-life existence, all his suffering, toil, comforts, and joy to be lived out with and for the Corinthians. As Christ never leaves or forsakes Paul, the latter is committed never to leave the Corinthians. He’s saying, “We’re in this together, whether you like it or not. I’m not leaving you. So make room for me!” Weaker men would return the Corinthians’ attitude in kind: “Well, if you aren’t going to widen your heart to me, then I won’t widen mine to you. Good riddance!” But Paul is strengthened, comforted even (his word), by God’s strong grace of preservation, that he might persevere in a relationship that is mostly one-sided.

Fourth, Paul’s affliction-filled ministry for the Corinthians has earned him the right to the table of fellowship with them (v. 5). In 7:5, Paul revisits his travel narrative begun in 2:12-13. Re-read 2:12-13 in light of 7:5-6, and you’ll see that both passages are saying basically the same thing. Paul was greatly afflicted in Troas, so much so that neither his spirit (2:12) nor body (7:5) was at rest because of Titus’ absence, so he went on to Macedonia. In Macedonia even he was not at peace until he found his beloved brother there. It was through the person of Titus that God had comforted the downcast Paul (7:6). God comforted Paul by reuniting these brothers. What a sweet testimony of God’s care for his image-bearing creatures who crave godly brotherhood. It’s not merely that Titus was a brother, but that as Paul’s brother, he faithfully ministered to Paul’s own heart. Do you know that kind of Christian encouragement and mutual ministry? Do you have that with some in your church? It made the difference for Paul when it came to his relief of a restive soul and body. It was God’s very means of comforting Paul. Not only did Paul receive comfort by the Spirit through the person of Titus, but as Paul continues, we read that he was comforted with the fact of Titus’ being comforted and refreshed by the Corinthians themselves (vv. 7, 13). Paul loved Titus profoundly, and he wanted his beloved brother to be treated well by their Corinthian siblings. And Paul was concerned about how he and the brothers he sends to them would be received (1 Cor. 16). By God’s grace, the Corinthians received Titus, and even—praise God!—shared their love for Paul! In verse 7, for instance, Paul mentions Titus’ report: that they longed for, mourned over, and were zealous for Paul. That attitude is a great turning-point for Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians, and for the Corinthians’ walk with the Lord. It seems like the Corinthians have begun to see that Paul has suffered much for them; they, in turn, should see his affliction as one manifestation of his open heart towards them. Will they, therefore, make more room for him in theirs? Based on 7:7, it appears that many of the Corinthians are at that point, while some still need some convincing.

Fifth, Paul’s boasting of the Corinthians is a demonstration of his wide heart. His heart is full of boasting for the Corinthians (v. 14), which is fundamentally a boast in the God of all grace. If you’ve been riding the roller-coaster that is the Corinthians, you know that Paul is the better man for saying such things. The Corinthians have given him few reasons to boast greatly! Nevertheless, it’s those few reasons to which Paul clings. He is charitable and loving. As such, he “believes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). That is a lesson in itself, so don’t miss it.

Paul says that he was not embarrassed when he told Titus of his confidence in and love for the Corinthians. He didn’t need to retract or qualify his endorsement or recommendation of the Corinthians to Titus. Perhaps you’ve vouched for someone based on what you knew about that person, only to find out later that he dropped the ball. That is embarrassing, isn’t it? You thought you knew someone. You told another person who trusts your word and respects you, “He’s good people. He’d be great for the position,” and on and on. But it turns out you didn’t know him as well as you had thought. Your word now becomes less trustworthy, your reputation more suspect. For Paul, he didn’t experience that kind of embarrassment or shame. Not only was he not ashamed, but he was even more joyful, as Titus his reporter himself grew in affection for the Corinthians. The Corinthians demonstrated real repentance and faith through obedience. That they received Titus warmly and as an emissary of God’s gospel is evidence of their “fear and trembling” before the Lord (v. 15). This is all great news! The Corinthians, therefore, should widen their hearts all the more!

What began with trouble (7:2-5) ends with joy (7:16). What gives? Why the change? Their faith and repentance (7:8-13), which we’ll look at next time. Before concluding, however, remember that in the first paragraph I said that Titus was to thank for the Corinthians’ keeping Paul in their hearts. There is room for Paul in their hearts. He doesn’t need to squeeze in; he fits in comfortably. God had used Titus as a mediator of sorts. He was able to bring Paul’s letter and heart to the Corinthians, and the Corinthians grew in their warm welcoming of Paul. To be sure, there were some outliers, others skeptical, still others hostile to Paul. But we mustn’t miss what the gospel can do in the hands of jars of clay. God uses his people even to bring them closer to each other. We have hope, therefore, of a happy ending for us all.



2 Corinthians 7:1

2 Corinthians 7:1

Sanctification through Promises

Every time, without fail, Chandler would take a shower after he had been with Sharon, the woman he was having an affair with. Sharon would question him each time: “Why do you shower after you’ve been with me? Do you think we’re doing something wrong here?” Wachovia and his brother, Manny, had potty mouths. Every time their mother caught them cussing, she would march them into the bathroom, force their mouths under the sink faucet, and proceed to rinse them out with soap. What these vignettes illustrate is the inherent defilement of sin. Sin is dirty. It makes us feel yucky, unclean, filthy, and just plain gross. At least it should. Tragically, it doesn’t always come across as the disgusting pollution that it is in itself. Our disgust, or lack thereof, doesn’t determine sin’s status or level of filth. Indeed, God’s more disgusted with sin than we will ever be. Because of God’s absolute purity, all sin is impurity and must be blotted out.

Last time we explored the two internecine worldviews: Christ’s and Satan’s. There are really only two ways to live. Will Christ be recognized as a benevolent Lord over us, or will we choose to remain as slaves to Satan? Our answer will radically determine the direction our lives take  (I mean that literally, radix, “to the core”). One will be Christward, the other Devilward. Since our text is the first verse in a new chapter, we might be tempted to think that Paul has changed the direction of his argument or letter. Not so. In fact, 7:1 would flow better if it were seen as “6:19” (there’s no such verse). What Paul says in 7:1 is really the hortatory conclusion to what he had just written in 6:14-18. Paul exhorts the Corinthians and us as well: “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement.”

With Paul’s command we’re taken back to the Old Testament. This is quite clear with his citations in 6:16-19 of Leviticus 26:12 and Isaiah 52:11. Back in Leviticus, God has been preparing his people to enter the Promised Land and to live holily, because their God is holy and in their presence. In Leviticus 26, the Lord puts before the Israelites both blessings (for obedience) and curses (for disobedience). They must consecrate and cleanse themselves, as they are being led by the clean God. The tribes were even arranged around the Tabernacle with God’s presence being the focal point and with the understanding that God is their neighbor. Indeed, in Numbers 5:1-4, lepers and those with discharges are ritually unclean and must be put outside the camp until they are free of leprosy or bodily discharge. Why? God dwells with the people; he’s in their midst (v. 3). Even human feces were to be placed outside the camp (Deut. 23:12-14). The idea, of course, is that of God walking and stepping on poop. That’s gross. God is too pure for poop in his presence.

Paul is dealing here with more than feces. In fact, human defecation is nothing compared to the crap that is our sin. I recently saw a disheartening photo on social media posted by a guy who bought one of those self-moving vacuums. He was displeased because the vacuum went over his dog’s butt-waste, then proceeded to vacuum the rest of the house. You can picture the mess, I take it. If you think that’s a mess, what do you think about your own sin? If you’re an unbeliever, you’re in a big mess, aren’t you? You need the blood of Christ to cleanse your life of the filthy sin of body and spirit. And the beautiful truth about the gospel is that all our sins are washed away by the pure blood of Christ. First John 1:9 says that when we come to Christ by faith, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness. That’s a remarkable gift from the God of all purity.

In 7:1, however, Paul is addressing believers, so we’re not off the hook. Let’s be clear. When Christ atones for our sins, all of them (past, present, and future) are covered by his sufficient and efficient blood. So, we’re not talking about our justification or legal standing before God. We’re talking about sanctification, God’s daily work in our lives whereby we are renewed in the whole man, and are thus enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. No true Christian will say that he is without sin this side of heaven (1 John 1:10). Paul elsewhere says that God’s will is our very sanctification/holiness (1 Thess. 4:3). The author to the Hebrews even tells us strive for holiness, because without it no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Paul urges us not to give sin a foothold. God cares about how we live. We wouldn’t wittingly dip our toes in a puddle of urine. Why would we do so with sin?

Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement “of body and spirit.” Be it of the body or the spirit, from what defilement(s) must you cleanse yourself? Unrighteous anger, bitterness, pornography, masturbation, homosexuality, ingratitude, marital infidelity, living with your girlfriend, destructive speech, deceitful words, drunkenness, selfishness, impatience, envy, worldliness, lack of self-control, over-eating, under-eating, abuse of medication? All these sins have in common an origin from the spirit that is manifested through the body. Paul gives no credence to any Gnostic understanding of the person or sin. He rejects the idea that we can do whatever we want in the body, just as long as our spirits are free of sin. It doesn’t work that way. All sins of the body proceed from a heart in need of cleansing. We are whole-person sinners. Therefore, we need whole-person sanctification. Sin defiles, but Christ cleanses.

Well, then, how do we “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit”? We cling daily to the promises of God (7:1). The word “since” is better translated, “therefore,” thereby connecting 7:1 with the preceding context (6:16-18) where the promises are specified. We need to look at the word “promises” in Paul’s letter. It’s used only here and in 1:20. You can read the post from 1:20, where I chart some of the overarching and substantial promises of God. For this post, and looking at the context of 6:16-18, we see these promises:

  1. God will make his dwelling with Israel
  2. God will walk among Israel
  3. God will be Israel’s God; Israel will be God’s people
  4. God will welcome Israel
  5. God will be Israel’s Father; Israel will be God’s sons and daughters

These are promises of his presence, preservation, Fatherly care, guidance, infallible Word, and innumerable blessings besides. Just as God promised to dwell among the ancient Israelites—being with them every step of the way, making a way for them to come into his holy presence through the Tabernacle and Temple, providing manna in the wilderness and food in the Promised Land, shepherding them with his Word—God has blessed us now with these and more promises, and in a greater measure by Christ’s Spirit of Holiness. Remarkably, Paul is applying these promises given to Israel to the Corinthian Christians. Sorry Dispensationalists, but it should be clear that Paul believes that the NT church is the fulfillment of all these Temple prophecies. The NT church has these OT promises given to Israel. How can this be? The church is the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). True Israel consists of those who are by faith children of Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8). G.K. Beale has noted an inclusio (literary bookending) with 7:1 and 1:20, thereby including all the other promises in the intervening passages: promises of the Spirit (1:22), New Covenant (3:3, 6), new creation (5:17), and resurrected body (3:6; 5:14-15).[1] When we consider all these promises, therefore, we have a lot to meditate on and much to move us to obedience.

Why do we cleanse ourselves? God has given us these many and monumental promises! God has promised us better things! With all these more glorious realities awaiting us (which we taste in part even now), why would we be content with lesser things? Why would we give ourselves over to the unclean when God has blessed us with and for so much more? Does the titillating object of pornography really compare to the glory of God? Will your bitterness sustain you more than the hope of your resurrection? Does withholding forgiveness really outweigh God’s Fatherly and forgiving love for you in Christ? Should you touch that bottle, or will the God who indwells you be enough to get you through the day? Will you cleanse yourself by the Spirit’s purifying work, or will you join yourself to Belial? Are you God’s son or daughter, or Satan’s offspring?

If we seek to live rightly in the presence of God (knowing that we have become his dwelling-place), what will be the result? If we seek to live “in the fear of God” (that regenerated recognition that God is your light and life), what can we expect to take place? Paul tells us, “bringing holiness to completion.” And that’s another promise, isn’t it? It’s God who works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). As we submit ourselves to God, as we subject our members as slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:13), holiness ensues. Sanctification follows. You know what they say: You get out what you put in. As you, by God’s grace mediated by the Holy Spirit, avail yourself of his means of cleansing and daily discipline of godliness, you become more and more like Christ. You die more and more to sin, and you live more and more to righteousness. This is the lifestyle for those who seek to be trained by God’s discipline. A peaceful fruit of righteousness is sure to follow (Heb. 12:11). Let us, then, cleanse ourselves of all filth. Let’s hold onto the sweet and solid promises of the God who has called us his sons and daughters. As beloved children, let’s pursue holiness.

[1] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, 719 (BakerAcademic).

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

2 Corinthians 6:14-18


People tend to hate ultimatums. When a boss, for instance, says, “It’s my way or the highway,” he’s just tempting the employee to quit. Egging him on really. No one likes to be handled that way. Moreover, in our pluralistic society, one way or even two ways to skin a cat just won’t cut it. We need many ways, many truths. Or if not many ways, then how about a middle way? That sounds most balanced, doesn’t it? Hence the appeal of Buddhism or Aristotelian ethics. In our verses today, we see two ways to live, two worldviews that are hostile to one another. One cannot live at peace with the other. Either/or. Take one and leave the other. Clearly, Paul is not advocating both ways. You’ll need to leave one behind, and it’s the one of the Serpent that will need to bite the dust. Paul’s telling us that there’s only one real option for those who love Jesus, and it’s God’s way.

Here’s the contrast laid out in vv. 14-16a.

God’s Way Devil’s Way
Righteousness Lawlessness
Light Darkness
Christ Belial/Beliar
Believer Unbeliever
God’s temple Idols


The contrasts are clearly perceived. A law cannot be seen as both righteous and lawless in the same sense. If you have darkness exposed to the light, the dark areas are no longer dark. Christ does not commune with Belial (a word associated with wickedness and worthlessness: Deut. 13:13; Judges 19:22; 1 Sam. 1:16; 2:12), which is another name for Satan. How dare we think that the God who commands that we have and make no idols would be associated with idols! Paul is dipping into the rich history of the Old Testament holiness code in Leviticus 26:12 in particular, and highlighting the themes of clean v. unclean, separation v. participation, righteousness v. unrighteousness, and God as our dwelling-place (cf. also Isa. 52:11; Ezek. 11:17; 16; 37:27; etc.). With Paul’s catena of OT allusions and quotations, you can hear the covenant Lord’s command, “Be holy, as I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). We’re called to holiness.

It’s important to see the connection between these verses and the preceding context, because the connection may not be initially obvious to all. Looking back in the previous section, we remember that Paul is defending the apostolic ministry of the New Covenant, and his own inclusion as Christ’s ambassador and minister of it, and he’s making an appeal to receive him as his heart is wide open to them (2 Cor. 5:11-6:13). G.K. Beale connects the two sections thus: “This is not a general exhortation to separate from the world; rather, Paul likely has in mind that the readers are to separate from the world by not evaluating Paul’s apostleship according to the unbelieving standards of the world.”[1] In other words, the Corinthians will demonstrate their separation from the world, their disassociation from Satan and his “super-apostles,” by acknowledging Paul as an authentic New Covenant minster and apostle (cf. 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:1-4, 13-15, 20-23; 12:11-21). If they reject Paul as an apostolic authority, what they’re saying is that they reject God. They’re denying that God has spoken to them through Paul. The word from Paul is no word from God, they’d say. It is not for them. Perhaps true for others, but not for them. This was the perspective of the false apostles that were against Paul and who were influencing the Corinthians to leave Paul in the dust. Such is the way of the world, and Paul was no stranger to this kind of opposition. He dealt with a similar expression in his letter to the Galatians. The question for the Corinthians (and all of us, really) is this: Will we receive this letter as the Word of God? There are some truths that won’t go down smoothly, but can they be digested with faith? We may not care for Paul’s weak style, but can we get on board with God’s modus operandi as he takes the folly of the cross to shame the wise?

We must be reminded that we are a temple of God, that God’s Spirit indwells us (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 3:12). We must be reminded that our church body is a temple of the Holy Spirit in us (1 Cor. 6:19). Don’t be yoked unequally. Don’t partner with lawlessness. Don’t fellowship with darkness. Don’t associate with the Devil. Don’t commune with unbelievers. This does not mean that we can’t spend time with them, evangelize them, love them, have friendships with them, etc. But it does mean that we don’t view them as brothers and sisters in Christ, for they are without God. It does mean that we don’t unite ourselves with them in a common bond of Christ apart from the gospel. Christless unity is not worthy of the name. God dwells with his people, so do not dwell in unity with those who are not his people. Be separate from those outside of the Lord. Be not associated with anything morally unclean and impure.

God is your Father, you are his son or daughter, so be holy as your heavenly Father is holy. That’s the command. The illogicality and irreconcilability of the two ways of living force us to choose this today whom we will serve: Righteousness or lawlessness? Light or darkness? Trinity or idols? Christ or Beliar? Jesus the true temple is the way (John 14:6). Believers likewise are called the temple of the living God (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:14). Reasonably, therefore, those in him must follow the Way. It’s not shocking to learn that the early Christians were called the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23). The applications for us Christians today are limitless. Rather than particularizing them, let me simply encourage you to ask a few questions as you seek to apply these verses to any specific possible endeavor.

  1. Is what I’m considering thinking or doing a departure from the clear, authoritative Word of God?
  2. Is what I’m considering a compromise of the gospel?
  3. Is what I’m considering doing justice to God’s clear command to separate myself from all evil, impurity, and fellowship with sin and evil?

[1] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, 716.

2 Corinthians 6:3-13

2 Corinthians 6:3-13

Open Wide

I don’t think I’m stepping out on a limb here by supposing that you’ve been under-appreciated for the things you’ve done for others. (Do know that I’m not writing this to butter you up; Lord knows that in our hearts we self-butter enough. I’m simply pointing out a common experience.) Teachers, you do so much for and receive so little in return from the students you teach every year (your “kids,” as you doubtless call them). Mothers, how many meals do you carefully craft for your offspring that go un-thanked if not outright hated and uneaten? Sound booth guy (whoever you are), surely, your work is hardly on anyone’s mind but your own, yet how valuable a work it is! Pastors, admittedly, your work on Sundays is commendable, but it should be since you don’t have to work the other days, right? In these verses of chapter 6, much can be said: what an authentic ministry looks like, the various sufferings that accompany genuine servanthood, the dualism of life-on-earth v. life-in-Christ, etc. Rather than doing that (which I’ve done in part in previous posts), I want to focus vv. 11-13 in light of that authentic ministry and those afflictions.

Paul returns to his ministerial self-defense class for the Corinthians in which he highlights the Corinthians’ childishness and immaturity. He even tells them that he is speaking to them as his children (v. 13). He plays a note he’s already played back in chapter 4. When speaking of his afflictions, the light of the gospel, and the treasure of Christ in his feeble body, he underscores the hardships of his ministry. His ministry is fraught with affliction, perplexity, persecution, and strikes (4:8-9). Nevertheless, Paul and his co-laborers reject underhanded ways of getting the gospel into the hands of God’s image-bearers. They eschew disgracefulness, cunning, or tampering with God’s Word (4:2). In a similar vein, now in chapter 6, Paul reminds us that his ministry is a faultless, obstacle-free ministry (6:3), despite all the afflictions that come their way, which he details in vv. 4-5 and 8-10: hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger (4-5), dishonor, slander, considered to be imposters, unknown, dead, punished, sorrowful, poor, and having nothing (8-10). He’s not saying he and his co-servants in the Lord are sinless, but he is commending himself, Timothy, and Silvanus to the Corinthians. He affirms that they’ve made every attempt to put nothing in the way of the gospel. They’ve endured much. Still their witness to God’s truth has remained firm. It’s been tried and tested, and by God’s grace, they and their witness continue to be the aroma of Christ to God. By God’s grace, Paul and his cohorts can commend themselves by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, the power of God, and weapons of righteousness. They are true, well known, alive, not killed, always rejoicing, making many rich, and possessing everything (6-10), because they belong to their Lord Jesus Christ.

When we consider all the troubles of these faithful men, we ought to be amazed at their steadfastness, and we ought to be thankful for God’s preserving grace in their lives. What a mighty God we serve! Paul et al. had every earthly reason to abandon hope, call it quits, and go back to whatever they had been doing before entering the ministry. One severe beating alone would test a man’s allegiance and possibly break him. One riot alone could knock us to the ground and tempt us to stay there prone to the floor. Imprisonment could shake our confidence. Hunger could veer us off the path. Sleepless nights could make us insane. But here we have God’s sustaining grace such that these men are not simply surviving. They are alive! They’re living the abundant life irrespective of the punishments, sorrows, poverty, and dishonor they’re receiving at the hands of enemies and disgratitudinous Corinthians. Not only are they alive, but God is using them to make others alive and rich in Christ, causing much rejoicing all around. God truly is good to his people.

Would that the Corinthians recognized such powerful grace! Would that the Corinthians grew up! Hear Paul’s heart in vv. 11-13. He says that he and his co-laborers have spoken freely. Literally, he’s saying that his mouth has been open to them. In other words, he’s not holding back the truth. He’s presenting the open statement of the truth (cf. 4:2). They get the truth and nothing but the truth of God delivered to the doorsteps of their hearts, and Paul is pleading with them to open and receive the truth. Furthermore, Paul et al. say that their heart is open to the Corinthians (v. 11). Not only is the truth delivered to their hearts, but so are their very lives. Have you ever tried to hug a person who doesn’t want it? You know, they just keep their arms at their sides, drooping downward. You put your arms around them, and there’s nothing in return. No feeling. No affection. Sometimes I feel that way when hugging my 13-year-old son. He all of a sudden goes limp on me. But he’s 13, and it’s not the coolest thing in the world for a teenager to receive a hug around the neck and a kiss upon the cheek from dad. Thankfully, however, there are other times when he says, “Daddio, give me a big ol’ jolly H-U-G!” and it’s a pure delight.

Paul, with arms wide open, is calling for a heart-hug from the Corinthians in return. He says, “widen your hearts also” (v. 13). Daddio Paul is saying to these Corinthian children, “Open up! Receive my affections.” And it’s not so much that Paul wants the Corinthians to widen their hearts toward him because he has some spiritual need that needs to be met. He’s learned to be content whether he has friends at his side or whether they’ve all left him to loneliness. Nevertheless, to receive Paul is to receive God since Paul is God’s apostolic ambassador who comes with divine truth and compassion. Paul as apostolic messenger is giving them the truth and showing them true brotherly love and affection. So, to spurn his message and love is for the Corinthians to say that they don’t want any part of God’s Word or the church. And that’s a hard place for professing children of God to be.

Paul has noted the Corinthians’ small affections and little desire to hug him back (v. 12). They’re restricted in their own affections. Their love is so narrow that they can’t get their arms around him, nor do they want to. The word “restricted” is one that Paul used in 4:8 when he spoke of himself not being “crushed” despite the every-sided affliction. The Corinthians here are self-crushed, self-narrowed in, self-confined with respect to their affections, compassions, and love for Paul. They’ve boxed Paul out and have excluded him from a full-hearted, entirely opened love. Despite Paul’s faithfulness, whole-heartedness, open mouth, and many afflictions, the Corinthians return little to nothing by way of brotherhood and love. Like a faithful yet under-appreciated father, he remains firm, saying, “Don’t think I don’t love you. Lord knows that I do! Look at my life and ministry on your behalf. See that I’ve given you words of eternal life. See that I’ve given you myself.” Paul is gently rebuking the Corinthians for their childishness. Like a thankless child who doesn’t acknowledge all the time, money, resources, and efforts put in by his parents for his good, the Corinthians say, “OK, we kind of like you too, Paul.” Ouch! That must hurt.

Paul sets before them not only the truth but also themselves. He sets before them God’s Word and true brotherhood. Sadly, the Corinthians are still children in the faith in need of milk and a class in Christianity 101. The Corinthians, ironically, had a love problem. I say “ironically,” because the most famous “love chapter” was written to the Corinthians earlier (1 Cor. 13). They were begged by Paul to “reaffirm” their love for the repentant sinner in 2 Corinthians 2. Now they’re being asked to widen their affectionate love for Paul and his co-ministers.

Should we not likewise consider all those people in our lives that God has given to us for our good? Thanks be to God that through them we have grown closer to God in knowledge and holiness. Thanks be to God that through them we experience genuine love from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe we ought to give God thanks for them. Maybe we ought to encourage them with thankfulness to them. Maybe we ought to widen our hearts to them. Of course, it’s not truly surprising to learn of their love problem. We suffer in the same way. We don’t love one another perfectly. We’ve been burned one too many times to freely widen our hearts to others. And on and on the excuses go.

But it’s the gospel that moves us to others. God didn’t wait for his image-bearers to appreciate him before he sent his Son to the earth. He didn’t wait for us to get our acts together. Even while we were hateful sinners, Christ died for us. While our hearts were closed off toward God, his was wide open toward us. And because of the gospel, we open wide.

2 Corinthians 6:1-2

2 Corinthians 6:1-2
Not in Vain but NOW!

If you’ve lived even just a few short years, especially in America, you’ve felt the tug to make an immediate decision to make a purchase. You’ve felt the pressure from within to get the latest toy at Wal-Mart (or to ask your parents to get it). You’ve struggled because of all those slammin’ deals that come only once a year (supposedly). You need to acquire it now, right? Or else. Perhaps a job opening has come to your attention, and it won’t be open for long. Better act fast, or else. And it’s that “or else” that frightens the individual. It’s that “or else,” coupled with what’s going on in your heart, that will move you closer or farther from the it, whatever it is. You can picture Paul urging the Corinthians with all urgency: not like a sleaze-ball for a car salesman, of course, but like one who has given the Corinthians his utter devotion and love, like one whose heart is wide open to them (6:11).

Paul uses most of his ink in chapter 5 to praise the God who reconciles the world to himself, and to highlight the beauties and attractiveness of the New Covenant ministry. When he starts chapter 6, he moves for a decision. He makes a hearty appeal, and he does so by grounding the appeal with Scripture. He quotes part of Isaiah 49:8. Isaiah 49 is an incredible Messianic passage, and I commend the entire chapter to you. Dwell in particular on the servant himself being called a covenant to the people (v. 8b). In verses 1-7, the LORD God speaks to his servant Israel, who is Jesus Christ the true and greater Israel. It is in this servant that the Lord will be glorified (v. 3). But in v. 4, the servant says that he has labored in vain, which verse Paul thematically connects in 6:1 when he exhorts the Corinthians not to receive God’s grace in vain. The servant struggles and wonders whether God’s remarkable work of redemption will be received well by those in the nation of Israel. And the Lord tells his servant that he, the servant, will minister not only to Jacob (Judah), but to all nations (49:6). The news of salvation shall be heard by all (Jews and Gentiles), and the ministry of the servant will not be in vain.

When we return to 2 Corinthians 6, we see that Paul self-identifies as a servant of the Servant. He’s already mentioned his own slavery to Christ earlier. Paul self-consciously continues the ministry of Christ as New Covenant minister. Now he wonders whether the Corinthians will receive God’s grace in vain or now, and he urges them—behold!—to receive grace now. Like a good preacher, Paul has called for a decision, an action on the part of the Corinthians. This is no altar call or a version of Finney’s anxious bench. Nevertheless, his desire is not stagnancy but Spirit-wrought activity. He’s appealing to the Corinthians to receive grace. He’s urging them to appropriate for themselves the grace of reconciliation celebrated just verses before. He’s saying, “Do you want in on this ministry? Don’t you desire this grace? Do not stand idly by! Stop twiddling your thumbs. Now is the time to receive this grace!”

That’s not just a call to the Corinthians; it’s a call to all of us as well. Let God’s great gospel not be all for naught in your life! Behold, now is the day of salvation. There’s no better time than the present. We’re guaranteed no future days to consider God’s grace. To receive it in vain is to look the Giver in the face and say, “Nah. Don’t want it. No thanks.” To receive it in vain has disastrous consequences—if not for one’s justification, certainly for one’s sanctification. I’m not saying the Corinthians weren’t saved, as clearly Paul views many of them to be saved and in a process of sanctification. But I suppose some weren’t. There were enough big problems in the church of Corinth that it’s not unlikely to believe that some of the Corinthians were not genuine believers. This grace of reconciliation, then, can be seen in one of two ways (both actually). First, the grace exhorted to be received might be that which is seen in the work of justification on God’s part that bleeds into reconciling two hitherto enemies. That makes sense of the preceding verse, 5:21, in which sinners become the righteousness of God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. And for those Corinthians, such grace is foundational to the Christian life. But, second, what of those Corinthian Christians and us rightly deemed saints? Must they—must we—still receive God’s grace? Silly question, I know. Paul may be used by God to work in the hearts of the Corinthians who are in their lives at odds with the will of the Lord. Clearly, much theological debris needs clearing. The Corinthians’ very lives need cleaning. Paul is exhorting these saints dear to his heart not to waste their lives playing with mud pies when God’s grace is more favorable than fresh mud.

Why wouldn’t we accept this grace? It’s grace from the irresistible God, after all. He’s even said that in a day of salvation, he has helped us. Why don’t we glom on to this grace so tightly and quickly? The answer is unsurprisingly lachrymose. Sin. Unbelief. Self-trust. Not recognizing that God’s way for us is better than our way for ourselves. What’s the solution? Equally unsurprising, but ironic. Grace. Oh, for grace to trust him more!

2 Corinthians 5:21

2 Corinthians 5:21

The Great Exchange

Quiz time. When we talk about justification of the sinner before God, which is a more accurate picture? The crediting of righteousness to the sinner’s legal bank account, or the injection of righteousness into the soul of the sinner? In the area of justification, do Christians become righteous like indebted servants whose debts are paid by another who credits their accounts with more than enough for a lifetime of living? Or do Christians become righteous like dry turkeys in need of being injected with juices and seasonings? To be more theologically clear, is justification by imputation, or by infusion?

Before moving on, let it be noted that the topic of justification is a big one, and Paul doesn’t address it at length in 2 Corinthians. If you want to read his sustained argumentation of justification, go to Romans and camp out in chapters 3-4 for a while (or read all of Galatians). Recall that in 2 Corinthians Paul is speaking of the New Covenant ministry of reconciliation. This is his concern. He has contrasted it with the Mosaic Covenant (chapter 3), he’s spoken about the light of the gospel and the treasure of Christ that are crystal-clear and highly prized in the New Covenant (chapter 4). He then speaks about our future dwelling with God. What comfort from the Spirit our guarantee! What courage that springs from knowing that God will swallow up death by the death of Christ, the author of life! In chapter 5, he’s addressing the persuasion of men. God has commissioned Paul as New Covenant minister to speak of Christ as the means of reconciliation of sinners to God.

There is, however, an insurmountable hurdle for the dead sinner to be reconciled. He can’t jump over it by himself. Dead men don’t jump. That’s why a new creation must take place (5:17). Of course, I’m talking about the hurdle of righteousness. If there’s going to be any hope for a dead sinner to be made alive and reconciled to God, he needs to be righteous. Reconciliation requires righteousness. There’s no possible way that the righteous God would ever (not even in his wildest dreams, which God doesn’t have) be reconciled to unholy sinners apart from righteousness/justification. God does not yoke himself with evil. The pure doesn’t mix with the impure. So, even though chapter 5 is not a sustained argument for the imputation of righteousness, the truth of imputed righteousness has every bearing on reconciliation. No righteousness means no reconciliation.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines “justification” and even appeals to our text as one of the proof texts for substantiating the definition. Notice the language of imputation. It is defined thus: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC, 33; cf. also WLC, 70-73). Petrus van Mastricht, in one of his many uses of 2 Corinthians 5:21, says, “[God] punishes, for the guilty, his own innocent Son: for the sake of us who were most wicked, he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (Theoretical-Practical Theology: Faith in the Triune God, vol. 2, 390).  That’s how God reconciles the world to himself: through Christ (vv. 18-19). When v. 21, therefore, says “He made him,” the first masculine pronoun refers to the Father, whereas the second refers to the Son. We could render it thus: “For our sake the Father made the Son to be sin who knew no sin….”

When we consider the clause “who knew no sin,” we need to be careful with what we’re saying. Did the Son know sin? Yes and no. The Son knew sin in that he wasn’t ignorant of sin, nor was he surprised by it. He knows sins when he sees it. He knows that the wages of sin is death. He knows the ruinous effects sin has on the soul and body of a human, and when spread on the world. He was the object of the most heinous sins. He knows that it’s the cause of guilt, corruption, and shame. He knows sin in these ways very intimately. He knows sin far better than we do. His exhaustive knowledge of sin, hatred for it, and desire to rescue his people from it and the wrath of God to come were what moved him (from eternity past) to become the God-man. So, yes, Christ knew sin.

However, that’s not what Paul was communicating when he said that the Son knew sin not. He had something else in mind, something to which many of the biblical authors testify. The Son had no sin in that he was not a sinner. You couldn’t catch him in a lie, as there is no deceit in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22). He wasn’t ever ogling a female. He never cheated anyone. He always honored his parents. Never coveted. No sin. He always did the will of the Father (John 8:29), so he rightly asks his accusers, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). He is our great, perfect high priest who, while perfectly sympathizing with us and being thoroughly tempted, was without sin (Heb. 4:15). The author to the Hebrews says that this great high priest is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). John tells us in summary fashion that Christ came to take away sins. He could only do that if he was sinless (1 John 3:5). If he sinned, he wouldn’t be able to take away sins; he’d need a Savior himself (Heb. 7:27)! So, no, Christ knew sin not.

And it was this sinless Son, who was intimately familiar with but separated from sin and sinners, who was made to be sin. That’s the first part of the Great Exchange and where the idea of imputation becomes necessary in our thinking: our sin imputed/credited/reckoned to the Son. The Father considered the Son to be sin; he counted sinners’ transgressions to be on the Son’s shoulders. Not that the Father thought of the Son as a sinner (for then no atonement could take place!), but that the sin of the elect would be counted to the Son, imputed to him. And that’s why Isaiah 53:10 can say that it pleased the Father to crush the Son. The Son was “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). The Father laid the iniquity of us all on the Son (Isa. 53:6). The Son bore the sins of the elect (Isa. 53:11-12). As our text says, God has reconciled sinners to himself in Christ by not counting our transgressions against us (2 Cor. 5:19). Christ was made to be sin so that we would no longer be made to be sin (v. 21). We with Paul break out in doxology, “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin!” (Rom. 4:8).

The Father’s counting the Son with the transgressors dovetails into our being accounted righteous (Isa. 53:11). And that’s the second part of the Great Exchange: the Son’s righteousness imputed to us. No longer is our legal debt before the Judge whose power and authority it is to save and to destroy (James 4:12). Our sin-debt has been paid (Matt. 18:21-35). Praise the Lord! But that’s not the end of the transaction. The story gets better and better. Not only are our sins no longer counted against us, but the righteousness of the Sinless Son has filled our legal account. Perhaps you recall an obscure Disney movie called Blank Check. In it a boy whose bike was crushed by a busy businessman was given a blank check by the man to handle the accident quickly and quietly. On the blank check, using a fancy computer program, the boy wrote down the figure of one million dollars. (The movie was done in 1994, so a million bucks is astronomical for a young 90’s kid.) His once non-existent bank account was immediately flooded with dollars overnight. He had more than he needed. He could get anything he wanted! If we were to quantify the value of Christ’s blood and righteousness, we’d need a number higher than we could count, bigger than our feeble imaginations could conjure up. And it’s that righteousness that has been imputed to our accounts overnight as the Son shone upon our hearts in newness of day. This is no legal fiction as the Roman Catholics claim, but it’s a true satisfaction of guilt, a real payment of sins by his perfect death (5:15), and a genuine accounting of the Son’s perfect righteousness to our accounts as our vicarious substitute. When God delivers, he really delivers! Not only are we innocent before the Judge of all the earth, but we’re righteous. Praise God!

What’s so breathtaking in all this is that God did this “for our sake.” He made the Son to be sin, so that we would be made righteousness to God. God did this for us! And we appropriate it by faith “in him,” as salvation comes only in union with Christ. No Christ means no righteousness. No righteousness means no reconciliation. No reconciliation means we’re left dead in our trespasses and sins. It means we die in our sins, and eternal hellfire awaits us. But God! He had pity on us his creation, decided to create anew, sent his Son who lived, died, and arose perfectly, so that we—we!—might become righteous in God’s sight. The Trinity—Righteous Father, Righteous Son, and Righteous Holy Spirit—saved unrighteous enemies and sinners, gave us new life, and imputed to us the righteousness that the Son earned on earth (which righteousness Adam failed to obtain for himself and all his posterity). Hallelujah, what a Savior!

2 Corinthians 5:16-20

2 Corinthians 5:16-20

The Reconciling Christ of Creation

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve had a rift in one of your relationships that, by grace, ended in reconciliation. I suppose you needn’t have lived long. Even children experience this. Some of my children, for instance, have had friends that split from them for one reason or another; and in most cases, by God’s grace, those friendships find reconciliation. Who comes to mind for you? Mother-daughter, Father-son, brother-brother, sister-sister, husband-wife, colleague-colleague? Have a think on one person from whom you separated (or who left you) because of some conflict. Now think about how God has reconciled you to each other.

Are you thanking the God of reconciliation for that work of grace? It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Of course, I’m certainly not oblivious to the perhaps more-than-common experience of a break in a relationship that hasn’t yet ended in reconciliation. Nevertheless, those instances of reconciliation sure do give us hopeful hearts that God might do the same for those relationships yet to be reconciled. Those illustrations where God’s grace of reconciliation is on full display are not accidental, incidental, or even surprising. They ought, rather, to be expected and greatly anticipated. Why? Put simply: It is in God’s good nature to reconcile.

To put reconciliation in perspective, the biblical worldview is a must-have framework. A theology of reconciliation is in order. The word in 2 Corinthians 5 for reconciliation (καταλλάσσω/katallassō), along with its verbal forms, has to do with the exchange of a hostile relationship for a friendly one (Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 7:11). However, we must first speak of what predated the hostility. Before the hostility, there was goodness and communion. At the conclusion of the first chapter in Genesis, we’re told that after God saw everything that he had made (heavens and earth), behold!, it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The capstone of this very good creation was man made in God’s image: in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). Adam communed with God. Adam communed with Eve. All was very good. God’s creation wasn’t creationally neutral. It wasn’t morally neutral either. This sinless nature needed no gracious improvement. What was needed was for Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, and to resist any serpentine temptation that would come their way during the time of probation. If they did not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, their estate of original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness would be forever established and their communion with God and each other perfectly confirmed.

Enter hostility. We all know the story. Adam and Eve fell. With the sin of Adam, all those in Adam fell likewise. It was Adam’s sin that subjected the world to futility, weakness, disease, and death. With the evil and sin of Adam, therefore, came a creation that bears thorns and thistles, one that is in need of redemption itself. Before Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, however, they’re left with a prophecy of future victory over the serpent (Gen. 3:15), which Adam appropriated by faith by naming his wife Eve, the mother of the living. With life comes  communion and reconciliation, bursting forth from Eve’s womb (Gen. 3:20). The prophecy was confirmed by the death and blood of the animals whose skins covered the image bearers’ iniquity (Gen. 3:21). For Paul, this hostility has reared its ugly head in our darkened minds. We used to view Christ according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16). Our hearts were fleshly, so we viewed Christ according to that sinful, fleshly nature. We who lived according to the flesh set our minds on the things of the flesh (Rom. 8:5), not considering Christ as he truly is. What a terrifying thought! To view the exalted, glorious, resurrected, God-Man as a mere man! To see Christ only as a prophet, or a moral teacher, or a sage, or a man who was just a model of compassion and love! As true as those are of Christ, they only make sense in the light of his true humanity and true deity. That fleshly mindset was, in a word, hostile (Rom. 8:7). What we needed was a mind inhabited by the Spirit.

Enter grace. From Genesis 3:15 to the end of God’s scriptural revelation, we have a story of the God who reconciles, working this mighty work of reconciliation of the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Paul is pleased to announce that he is a minister of this New Covenant ministry of reconciliation (v. 18). But before he could become that minister, he himself needed to view Christ Spiritually. Praise be to God that Paul (and we!) no longer regard Christ according to the flesh (v. 16)! The old man has passed away, and along with it all old things, and behold, the new man (rather, the New Man) has come, and along with Him all new things (v. 17). We have been saved by Christ to view him rightly. We are a new creation. The new creation sees Christ for who he truly is. God the Creator in Christ reconciles us to himself. We who were once enemies of Christ, dead in our trespasses and sins, are now reconciled and have become friends to Christ! This work of reconciliation was accomplished through God’s not imputing our transgressions against us (v. 19), which we’ll look at more in the next post. For the rest of this post, I want to address what Paul is getting at with the idea of God reconciling the world.

Enter grace for the world. Because God cares about his creation, it’s not a wonder that he’d seek its reconciliation to himself. This truth is often expressed by the idea of grace restoring nature. The God of creation desires to return his world to its status of “very good.” God affirms nature. In fact, nature itself is a revelation of God (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:19-20). God is the maker of heaven and earth (Gen. 1), the earth is his fullness (Ps. 24:1), and God’s goal is to have a new heaven-and-earth (Rev. 21:1-4). God’s work of re-creation, contrary to some Christians, is not hostile to or dismissive of creation. As Bavinck says, Christianity “is the true, pure, full religion, the restoration to a right relation with God and, therefore, also with creation” (The Sacrifice of Praise, 54). As new creations in Christ, we begin to relate rightly with God’s whole creation.

All this makes sense given the truth of Christ’s kingship over all creation and all the nations, as all the nations become the heritage of the Son of God; the ends of the earth are his possession (Ps. 2:8). That’s why Jesus told his disciples to baptize and disciple the nations, as Christ would be with them, even to the end of the age and earth (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Even the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 11:15). Not one square inch of the world belongs to anyone but Christ the King. Neither nook nor cranny is neglected by its King. And in prophetic fashion, one day (which begins now!) “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14; cf. also Isa. 11:9). That’s what God promised Abraham (Gen. 17:4-5), which truly aids our thinking in understanding Acts 2:39. The promise of salvation is given to Jews, to their covenant children, and to all those Gentiles (i.e., nations) that the Lord will call to himself. The promise is given to us, to our covenant children, and to all he will call to himself.

All this language sounds universalistic, and it is! This is not the kind of universalism that ignores the Bible and says that every last person on earth will ultimately be saved, that no one will go to hell. That’s a heresy and ought to be rejected. We, however, can still speak of the universality or Catholicity of our confession in Christ, and by it we mean that “Christianity is a world religion, destined for every status and class, place and time” (Bavinck, ibid., 51, my emphasis). That’s the affirmation of Scripture. John 3:16 affirms that God is for both Jew and Gentile, the whole world! In Revelation 5:9, the saints were singing a new song to the Lamb that is their Lord, for by his blood, he ransomed people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Didn’t Jesus himself show his love and care for both nature itself and its image-bearing inhabitants? Bavinck thought so. Pointing to Jesus’ liberal use of nature (grass, lilies, birds of the air, fish of the sea, vine and fig trees, the mustard seed, the grain of wheat, etc.), Bavinck says that Jesus “loves nature with a childlike joy” (ibid., 56). How could Christ hate, reject, ignore, or even abandon his created nature? It’s unthinkable. He entered creation to redeem his creation. When we consider how much our children play with nature, are amazed by it, gaze at it, and through it see the beauty, power, creativity, and glory of God, should we not likewise consider how Christ loves it as well? Bavinck, showing Jesus’ redemptive use of nature for the world, says, “Jesus laid down his natural life for our sakes, but he also took it up again and rose from the dead….The bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead is the decisive proof that Christianity does not stand in opposition to anything human or natural, but God’s holy will is to perfectly redeem all of creation” (ibid., 56). In some Christian circles we succumb to a kind of redemptive myopia. We tend to think only of Christ’s restoration of individuals in some atomistic fashion. But the Creator, Redeemer, and King Christ has regard, care, and love for more than the individual sinner. He cares for the families of individuals, the heads of households, the leaders of tribes, the peoples of all nations: the whole world itself, really. It’s his after all. Come to think of it, why wouldn’t he reconcile it to himself? Enter God.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Solo Christo Gloria

What have you recently been searching to buy on the Internet? What have the TV and social media advertisements been trying to persuade you to purchase? Most likely, it has something to do with a greater version of what you already have: a self-moving vacuum that takes the chore out of the chore, a new app that makes online banking easier, a newer systematic theology that charts the past and looks at present issues in the light of the Bible, a faster computer that makes playing games more user-friendly, ad infinitum. There’s no shortage of new ways and devices to improve our lives. In our consumeristic culture, we have gadgets and gizmos a-plenty. Whozits and whatzits galore. Even thingamabobs. Isn’t it neat? In these two powerful verses, Paul gives us the latest and ultimate way to live. Are you looking for the best motive for persuading men of the good news of Christ? Are you looking for the best motive for killing your sin? What Christian isn’t? Every year books come out that help us to have greater focus on persuading others. Every year books come out that help us to have greater focus on living rightly before God. And if they’re any good, they have in common what Paul says in vv. 14-15: Let Christ be that motive.

Recall that Paul in this section (vv. 11-21) writes about the New Covenant ministry of reconciliation of which he is an apostolic, commissioned minister. He faced opposition, persecution, rejection, even accusations of being out of his mind. What controls him in his ongoing fight against the world, what fuels him for the hard work of persuading darkened men, is the fear of the Lord (v. 11). He is referring to that fundamental presupposition or guiding principle when he says in v. 14 that it is the love of Christ that controls him. The English word “of” is multifaceted, and in the phrase “love of Christ,” it can mean one of two things: the love that Paul has for Christ, or the love that Christ has for Paul. Which one is it? It’s both, actually, even though one takes priority over the other. Chronologically and foundationally, Paul has in mind the love that Christ has for him as someone saved by the grace of Christ. God in love moved first to Paul and us. We can think of two common texts from John the apostle: John 3:16 (“For God loved the world in such a way that he gave his only-begotten Son”) and 1 John 4:19 (“We love because he first loved us”). God is the original lover. He’s the first mover. Christ loved Paul before Paul loved Christ. It was Christ’s illuminating and blinding love that knocked the threatening and murderous Paul to the ground on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). Paul, therefore, has in mind, first and foremost, the loving initiative of Christ his Lord.

Built on this foundation of Christ’s love, however, is Paul’s love for Christ. We cannot be loved by Christ and not love Christ in return. We cannot be set free and saved by the power of Christ and not respond with loving servitude to our new Master. Paul truly does love Jesus. If we’re in Christ, we likewise truly love Jesus. Imperfectly, but truly. Paul, then, in a secondary sense, says that he is controlled to follow Christ because of his love for Christ. Paul, as a new creation in Christ, as a servant of the Lord, is moved to persuade men and kill his own sin, because he loves Jesus, his all in all. Herman Bavinck reminds us of Christ’s love for us and of our unworthiness: “Christ was not ashamed of us at his incarnation. To be sure, he had many reasons to be” (The Sacrifice of Praise, 80). Those truths should amaze us. We were in every way shameful when the Son came to earth. There was nothing in or about us that moved the Son of God to descend from his glory, become incarnate, and live a shameful, humiliated life for us. God had an infinite amount of reasons to hate and reject us forever. God in Christ, however, moved toward us. And now we by his Spirit move toward others to persuade them to come to our lovely and loving Christ.

What does it mean for Paul to be controlled by the love that Christ has for him? The word “control” is used many times in the NT, mostly by Luke, Paul’s travel companion. It is normally associated with a besetting and irresistible sickness (fever or dysentery: Luke 4:38; Acts 28:8). Or it refers to someone gripped by fear (Luke 8:37), or even demons (Matt. 4:24). At times even it is used to speak of enemies surrounding or hemming God’s people in (Luke 19:43; 22:63), or Paul would say that he is hemmed in or hard-pressed between living on earth and living with Christ (Phil. 1:23). Christ himself uses the word to express how he was seized by his impending cross-baptism (Luke 12:50). Clearly, this word has the idea of being overwhelmed or acted upon by some outward or inward force, disposition, or agent. It means to be restrained or confined, to be held together or held fast to something by another. And I think Luke gives us a parallel in Acts 18:5 to our text. There Luke speaks of Paul in Corinth. How fitting that we would have a parallel with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians! In Acts 18:5, Luke tells us of Paul who was so occupied “with” the Word (I prefer, “by the Word”) that he testifies to the Jews “that the Christ was Jesus.” There it is. He can’t but preach Christ. He is so compelled, controlled, and directed by God that he moves toward others, even those hostile to the Messiah (Acts 18:6). Paul is moved by Christ’s love to persuade men (v. 14a).

Likewise, Paul is moved by Christ’s love to kill sin (vv. 14b-15). It’s that same motive but now applied to the mortification of sin. Christians are in the killing business. It’s our Spirit-empowered duty and privilege of destroying the sin that still remains in us. He says that Christ has died for all. The “all,” when we read Paul in light of Paul, means “all in Christ.” Christ has died for all who are in him, all those who are a new creation (v. 17), and all those who live for him (v. 15). Only new creatures in Christ live for Christ. Paul has the elect in mind here, not all people generally, nor all people universally (“every single person”). He uses similar language in Romans 5 to speak of two categories of “all”: all in the first Adam v. all in the second Adam (v. 18; cf. also 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

Since Jesus has died for all who are and will be in Christ, “therefore all have died.” To what have all the elect died? To themselves! To sin! To all self-seeking! To the fear of man! This is no different from what Paul says elsewhere. In Galatians 2:20, he tells us that he has been crucified with Christ. His old man has died and been replaced by the new man. Look also at Romans 6:11: We are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God because of the work of Christ Jesus. Paul has abandoned and even killed self because of the love of Christ. You are not your own. One of the common phrases my toddler twin boys hear from me is, “No, you do not get to do that, young sir. No, you do not.” They’re daily reminded of the things they get to do and the things they don’t get to do. In a similar but better way, because Christ loves us, he has given us his Word to show us the path of righteousness. And that means that there are some things in our lives that we might want to do, but our Lord Jesus Christ says, “No, you do not get to do that.” Jesus knows best. And because of our love for Christ, we submit, “Yes, Lord. Thank you for your Word.” ‘Twould be great if that were the way our lives always happened, wouldn’t it? Alas, it is not always so! Do you love your sin more than your Savior? Consider yourself dead to sin. Consider Christ’s love for you. Love him. Kill sin.

This is not all that the text says, of course. Paul gives us a purpose statement. Christ died for all his elect, “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (v. 15). We’re called not to merely die to ourselves, but to live! Live for whom? Live for ourselves? Surely not! We just died to ourselves. We can’t now live for ourselves. We seek to live for our resurrected Lord Jesus. John says something very similar in 1 John 4:9: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” God gave us his Son, that we might live. We live for him. Here, then, is a slight twist on one of the Solas of the Reformation. Instead of Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone), we now have Solo Christo Gloria (“Gloria to Christ Alone”). Again, our lives are not our own. We live for Jesus. We make it our aim in all things, death or life, to please Christ (5:9). Jesus didn’t die for us to merely be forgiven, as great as that is. Forgiveness was a means to an end. The end is man’s chief end, God’s original design: to glorify and enjoy God. Are you looking for the right motive for your sanctification? Pick Paul’s. Be compelled by Christ. Be gripped by his love for you. To be sure, he had many reasons to be ashamed of you. But thanks be to Christ that, rather than hating you, he died and was raised for you, that you might live for him. Solo Christo Gloria!



2 Corinthians 5:12-13

2 Corinthians 5:12-13

Craziness for God

“Girl, you crazy.” When I hear a woman say that to another woman, I usually laugh. It’s normally light-hearted and intended to evoke some laughter at the thought that she’d do something so strange, so unthinkable in the mind of the first woman. For instance, “I can’t believe you took that pacifier out of your baby’s mouth. Girl, you crazy!” To Paul, however, no light-heartedness was intended. Some in Corinth were saying, “Paul, you’re crazy!”

Remember that Paul has reminded the Corinthians of his full-hearted commitment to fear the Lord and persuade men. His aim in life is to love God by seeking to persuade others to love God as well. And in verse 12, he returns to the concept of recommendation or self-commendation, something he picked up in 3:1, and something he will have to comment on later in 10:12 and 12:11. With his apostleship under question, it’s not a surprise that his letter would at various points speak to the evidence of his authority. Is Paul commending himself? Are others commending him? If so, who are they really? Those are the kinds of questions that have occupied the typical Corinthian mindset. So he tells them again, “I’m not out here commending myself. I’m not out here asking you to commend me. In fact, as I said earlier (3:1), you are my letter of recommendation!” But he does affirm a desire for the Corinthians to boast about him. He wants them to have some pride in him as an acknowledgement of God’s work in their lives. Contrary to the Corinthians’ calumny, Paul is humble, and he doesn’t wish to prop himself up. If Paul’s not out for commendation or recommendation for his own sake, what’s he after? He’s actually thinking of the Corinthians! He labors for God’s glory and their good. There it is again: his love for the unloving Corinthians.

His purpose is apologetic in nature. He’s saying, “I want you to boast about me, so that you can speak up against those who oppose me and say that I don’t have the appearance of an apostle.” Paul was no stranger to opposition, as we’ve seen. On the face of it (literally, the word for “outward appearance” is simply “face”), Paul wasn’t anything special. He did not have the appearance of an apostle. He wasn’t peddling God’s word like other “super-apostles” were. He, therefore, reminds the Corinthians (and, I think, gently jabs at the Corinthians who gave credence to the opposition) that what lies in the heart is truer than that which lies on the face or surface. It’s not a stretch to say that Paul likely has 1 Samuel 16:7 in mind. Man focuses on the outward; God, the inward. Where’s the evidence of Paul’s being worthy of commendation, recommendation, and even some Corinthian pride? It lies in his faithfulness to God’s call to proclaim the word regardless of consequence. His life is an open testimony of God.

What is going on in verse 13? Pardon the pun, but it seems a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Paul is beside himself for God but rational for the Corinthians. Is Paul against the use of his reason? No. How can he be? He just said that he persuades men. And the persuasion he speaks of in 5:11 requires biblical rationality. Moreover, there are instances in Acts where we see Paul “reasoning in the synagogues” (Acts 17:17). Even in Corinth he did this. Notice both “reasoned” and “persuade”: “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Then is he proposing some mystic experience as a way of living before God? Again, no. But the Corinthians may have had in mind Paul’s experience of the third heaven, Paradise, 14 years prior (cf. 2 Corinthians 12). For some reason, however, he’s earned the reputation of a crazy man. Perhaps it was that he was promoting foolishness to the world. In any case, Paul is essentially saying this: “You can call me and what I’m doing crazy or rational. Either way, know that I am fully committed to God and to you!” Paul’s craziness, says Calvin, was “a sober and most judicious madness,” even though he appeared foolish (Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:13).

Paul was in the good company of “crazy people.” If he were transplanted into our modern day, he might be called a Jesus Freak (DC Talk, anyone?). I’m reminded of David in 2 Samuel 6:12-23. Although he was not called crazy, his jubilant worship and dancing before the Lord was vulgarly shameless, even self-honoring, in the eyes of his wife, Michal. Such opposition didn’t stop David. His behavior was worshipful “before the Lord” (v. 21). Even Paul’s Lord, Jesus Christ, was considered insane, out of his mind, and even demonic (Mark 3:21-22; John 7:20; 8:48-52). Of course, Christ was obedient to the Father always, and it was his desire to be pleasing in the eyes of the Father, even if that meant hated in the eyes of man. Paul is simply following Christ that we are to fear the Lord and persuade men, not vice versa. Are we willing to be called crazy, foolish, even demonic, if that means we’ll be faithful to God in the process? To God’s glory be our craziness!

2 Corinthians 5:11

2 Corinthians 5:11

Fear-fueling Persuasion

Should we fear? Some say that all fear is bad. Others say that there’s a kind of fear we ought to imbibe. My answer (which I believe is the biblical answer): that depends on whom/what you fear. We’re not even examining a whole verse today, but it relates to this fear question. We’ll spend our time just on the first sentence of v. 11: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” The word “others” ought to be either “people” or “men” (ἀνθρώπους/anthrōpous). Hence the title: persuading others comes from the fear of the Lord. Although the phrase “fear of the Lord” appears all throughout the Old Testament, its occurrence is rather scarce in the New Testament (though the concept, if not the phraseology, of fearing the Lord still pervades the NT).

What is Paul talking about by saying that he has a “fear of the Lord”? And who is the Lord? Is it God in general? The Father in particular? Christ? The Spirit? The previous context makes it clear that it is before the judgment seat of Christ that all men must appear (v. 10). Because the fear of the Lord has to do with the coming judgment upon all people, it’s natural to deduce that Paul had Christ in mind. So, Paul could be translated as saying, “Therefore, because I know what it means to fear the Lord Jesus Christ, I persuade men.” Paul the apostle is keenly aware that “every day in the life of the apostolic minister is judgment day” (Paul Barnett, 2 Corinthians, 281). Paul’s ministry is an open book to the one who knows all (4:2;  5:11b). There’s nothing in Paul’s ministry that is hidden from his Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, he submits all his evangelistic activities and efforts of persuasion to the judgeship of Christ. Paul wants to hear from Christ, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23). He’s seeking the commendation from Christ his judge. Paul knows that it is a weighty and serious calling to be an apostle, to be a teacher commissioned by the Lord (cf. James 3:1). As an undershepherd, he will be giving an account to the good Shepherd-Judge soon enough for how he lived his life and taught the sheep of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-2). Indeed, in his first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses the apostolic ministry (the very thing he defends in his second letter) and where he fits in. He straightforwardly says, “It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4). Therefore, Paul admits that his life is being clearly perceived by God the Son. Indeed, his life and ministry are known to God even now (2 Cor. 5:11b). And it’s that kind of life lived coram Deo that fuels his persuading men.

When we talk about persuading others, we’re talking about seeking biblically grounded, Christocentric, and Spirit-empowered ways of converting an unregenerate mind to faith in Christ. Obviously, only God can take a stony heart, a hard-hearted mind, and bring it to loving, faith-filled submission to the authority of Christ. But the Lord uses his servants, as we’ve seen, as instruments in his hands for this very Spirit-wrought activity.

Read the verse again, and notice that it does not say, “Fearing men, we persuade the Lord.” It says, “Fearing the Lord, we persuade men.” I know that’s an obvious point, but failure to see and apply this truth results in a failure to love the Lord truly and be obedient to him. God doesn’t call us to fear men. He calls us to persuade them. God doesn’t call us to persuade him (what an odd thought!). He calls us to fear him. Too often, however, our persuading men (or lack thereof) is fueled by a fear of man, not a fear of the Lord. Too often we fail to be faithful in speaking about Christ for fear of what others will say to or about us (or do to us). We think, “If I share Christ with this person, I could lose her as a friend. I could be seen as intolerant, narrow-minded, and not ‘with it.’” Or even the reverse could be true for you: we seek to persuade others because we would be looked upon favorably by our church family. We long to hear others say of us, “He’s quite the evangelist, so bold! Look how many people have been persuaded by his evangelistic efforts! He sure knows his Van Tilian apologetics.” However, what God is saying to us is this: “You fear me. Love me. Seek my kingdom. Seek my righteousness. Proclaim my name and leave the rest to me. Persuade others; don’t fear them. I’ll take care of the process.”

That’s the attitude under which the early church operated. Look at Acts 9:26-31, perhaps the very text Paul had in mind when he penned v. 11, because it was about his reception into the church. In Jerusalem he was (understandably) feared by the Jewish Christian brothers and disciples. This was so because of his past as the terrifying persecutor of Christians. But he had been changed on the road to Damascus, and Barnabas vouches for him. He had preached boldly in Jerusalem (fearing the Lord, persuading men), and the brothers were on his side, even rescuing him from Jewish opposition (from Greek-speaking Jews) by sending him away to his hometown, Tarsus, for a time. Acts 9:31 offers us a summary statement of the state of the church at the time: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” Wouldn’t you love to see more peace in the church? Wouldn’t you love to see greater multiplication of the people of God? To some extent, and in some areas, we see both peace and multiplication. That’s what we earnestly desire, isn’t it? That’s a goal of every church, right? It ought to be anyways. How do we get there? By walking in the fear of the Lord! By depending on the Holy Spirit’s comfort in the face of opposition. There’s a reason Paul had to preach boldly. He was persecuted and opposed at every turn. What a model for church growth. A simple one, even: just fear the Lord. Walk in a daily trust in, love for, and obedience to the Lord. Seek his kingdom and righteousness. Focus on advancing the gospel in your area. Entrust yourself to his cause, not to the approvals or disapprovals of others. Focus on Christ. We all could use more fear of the Lord.

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