2 Corinthians 1
1 Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and brother Timothy, to God’s assembly in Corinth, together with all the saints in all Achaia:
2 grace and peace to you from our Father God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercy and God of all encouragement;
Most translations put “mercies” in the plural, but the Greek word is a plural noun “bowels” for the singular noun “mercy” or “compassion” in English; “mercies” means something far more prosaic: “acts of kindness” or “evidences of divine favour,” whereas He is Father of mercy itself. I have also ended the verse with “encouragement” rather than the more common “comfort,” to tie in with the next verse which picks up on the idea.
4 who strengthens us in all our tribulation, so we can encourage those in any affliction, with the encouragement by which we are strengthened by God.
Most translations pepper this verse with “comfort” but my spirit far prefers “strengthen” and “encourage” which are equally valid translations of the two Greek words used. “Comfort” seems oddly weak for a disciple in affliction who is revealing the victorious Christ.
5 for just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into us, our strengthening also overflows through Christ.
As we partake of Christ in our daily lives, his sufferings become ours—they “overflow into us,” so we have to draw on His empowering to live victoriously. Again, most translations are stuck with “comfort” or “consolation” when actually, Jesus strengthens us in tribulation with His victory, so we can overcome.
6 And whether we are afflicted or encouraged it is for your sake: powerfully working encouragement and deliverance in your endurance of the same sufferings which we are suffering.
Here Paul switches from talking about the general experience of all Christ’s “holy ones” to talking specifically about himself and Timothy being afflicted. When he says “it is for your sake,” he is not saying that God sent them affliction in order to benefit the Corinthians, but that, as they consider Paul’s and Timothy’s joyful response to their sufferings, the Corinthians will gain encouragement and be able to reveal the same joy in the midst of their own troubles.
All the other translations manage to find some version of “if we are comforted, it is for your comfort.” Careful examination of the Greek leads me to the conclusion that this is insupportable—it is simply not there. Paul is not talking about him being comforted by God at all, he is talking about the Corinthians being encouraged and strengthened in the midst of their own afflictions when they consider his response to his similar afflictions. And Paul’s response would have been to rejoice, remembering that all our sufferings are from God, or permitted by Him, overflowing from Christ into us, so to suffer is to fully partake of Christ.
7 And so our confident anticipation of encouragement and deliverance for you is confirmed, knowing that even as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.
Translation note: I have rendered ἐλπίς (elpís) “confident anticipation,” since the word “hope” in English implies a built-in doubt which is wholly inappropriate in this context—Paul has no doubts at all, he is rejoicing that both his sufferings and his strengthening from Jesus are bearing fruit in the growing faith of the Corinthians.
8 For we don’t want you to be ignorant brethren, about the sufferings which came our way in Asia: we were burdened beyond measure—far above our strength, so that we even despaired of life.
The reason Paul doesn’t want them to be ignorant is, not that he wants them to know what he’s been through, but that he wants to teach them how a disciple of Jesus behaves under severe duress.
9 We pronounced on ourselves the sentence of death, though we can have no confidence in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead,
All the translations except the Aramaic Bible put something like “we had the sentence of death within ourselves” or “we felt we were under the sentence of death,” but having a death sentence pronounced against one has nothing to do with trusting oneself. However, if we pronounce the sentence upon ourselves, we can (will) be wrong, and find ourselves overruled by God.
What Paul is saying is that they decided that the sentence of death was rightfully theirs and so they prepared to die, even though they were supposed to know they could not trust their own judgment, and ultimately God ignored their ruling and restored them.
10 who rescued us from a grievous death and rescues still; and we put our trust in him that he will also continue to rescue.
He knows that his ministry will inevitably lead him into tricky situations where he and Timothy will have to rely on God to rescue them again and again.
11 You are joined together in helping us too, through the individual prayers of many, so many may give him thanks on our behalf for the gracious gift,
12 as our rejoicing is in the testimony of our conscience: that we have conducted ourselves in the world and especially toward you, in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by God’s grace.
Unlike many of the newer translations which guess that Paul is “boasting,” his conscience is telling him that they are successfully living by the Spirit, their behaviour confirming that Christ is “in [them] the hope of glory,” so he is rejoicing.
13 For we write nothing to you but what you know correctly, and thoroughly understand, and I trust that you will continue to know to the end,
The other translations put “read and acknowledge” or something similar, but the words ἀναγινώσκω (anaginṓskō) which they translate as “read,” and ἐπιγινώσκω (epiginṓskō) which they translate as “acknowledge” both mean “to know accurately” or “to understand.”
There is a “rule” among Bible translators that they must always use the most literal meaning, even when they know that the metaphorical or spiritual meaning would fit much better. This is a ridiculous rule I am prepared to break as necessary. Biblical translation should be concerned with the semantics of the Greek, not fettered with a set of inflexible rules.
14 just as you have also known us to some degree, that we are your glory, even as you will be ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Translation note: the future tense “will be” is covered and confirmed by “in the day of the Lord Jesus” though it is only implied in the Greek as the verb is not used at all in any tense. Almost every other translation insists on “are”—I don’t know why.
15 Confident of this, I was planning to come to you first that you might have a second portion of grace:
This confidence is that they will be each other’s glory in the day of the Lord Jesus.
16 to call in as I pass through on my way to Macedonia, and on my way back from Macedonia to come to you again, and so you could send me on my way to Judea.
The idea is that Paul (and Timothy) would bring the Lord’s grace with them, by which God could exert His holy influence on all the saints, strengthening their faith and encouraging them all in their discipleship. Paul is not being arrogant in this, he is simply gratefully aware that God uses him this way, and wants to share this grace with the Corinthians, whom he loves.
17 Did I plan this on impulse? Or do I plan in the flesh saying both “yes, yes” and “no, no?”
Paul’s questions are constructed to require the answer “no,” to either the idea that he plans impetuously or in the flesh. His “yes, yes” and “no, no” indicate the uncertainty of anything done in the flesh.
18 But God is faithful so our word to you did not become both “yes and no,”
Almost all the other translations assume that the phrase referring to God’s faithfulness is not part of his discussion, but more of the nature of an expression that’s obviously true, used to signal or imply that his next phrase is equally true, as in “But as surely as God is faithful, our word…” That, of course, would be manipulative rhetoric, which is not how Paul thinks now that he has the mind of Christ. The reason Paul’s word can be trusted is because God is faithful, and Paul lives and plans in the Spirit.
19 for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed among you by us—me, Silvanus and Timothy—was not “yes and no” but has become “yes” in him.
Here his thought moves over to the perfect reliability and affirmation built in to the promises of God, based on the perfect obedience and work of Christ, in whom all the promises are affirmed.
20 For all the promises of God in him are “yes” and in him “amen” on our account, to the glory of God.
So Jesus, amazingly, becomes the “yes,” rubber stamping all God’s promises from the Old Testament.
All the translations put the more common “by” or “through” for the Greek word διά (diá), leading to “through Christ, to the glory of God,” and forcing them to credit “us” or “we” with saying the “amen,” but, according to Thayer’s, it also means “for our sake” or “on our account” which makes much more sense here, since “amen” means “surely” or “truly”…so Christ says both the “yes” and the “amen.”
21 Now he who firmly establishes us in Christ, together with you, and anoints us, is God;
God causes us to be steadfast in our fellowship with Christ. We are anointed for specific tasks in the body (but not power over others) by the gifts of the Spirit.
22 who also sealed us by giving the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts.
In this context the Spirit given us is a kind of deposit or down payment, guaranteeing God’s promises. As soon as we are aware of the Spirit’s presence within, we are totally certain of our eternal future with Him.
23 And I call God as witness of my life, that to spare you I’ve delayed coming to Corinth,
Paul can refer to God here because He saw everything that ever happened in Paul’s life, so He was well aware of all Paul’s intentions and motivations—just as He is of ours. Paul wanted to spare them going over the sexual sin and being brought down again, after it had all been dealt with and forgiven.
24 as we have no dominion over you in the faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand by faith.
This is a terribly important point: even the apostle Paul had “no dominion over” the saints – only Jesus has power over those in His assemblies, implemented through the Holy Spirit. People who set themselves up as “apostles,” “priests” or “popes” are usurping the role of Christ in order to exercise unlawful power over the members. Paul, knowing that having power over others would tend to corrupt, and also could not help them in the least to grow in faith or gain a place in heaven, saw his role as a servant of the saints, so he always “implored” them and never “commanded” them, except where he was passing on an instruction from God. He says “you stand by faith” because they could never stand by anything Paul was, or did, or achieved; they, and we, can only stand by our own faith.
2 Corinthians 2
1 So I made up my mind that I would not visit you again in sadness,
2 for if I distress you, who will cheer me but those I distress?
Paul’s concern is that both they and he will be distressed if he visits them, since he knows that they will inevitably bring up the subject he’s been addressing, but it would be better to deal with it locally and move on, so that by the time he eventually gets there, the subject will have been forgiven and forgotten.
3 So I’ve written this to you, rather than coming, that I might not be saddened by those in whom I should be rejoicing. I have confidence in you all, since my joy is all of you,
All the other translations put some version of “so that when I come” even though the Greek says, “that coming not” so I have put “rather than coming.” They also struggle with the last phrase here, guessing that Paul is talking about “sharing his joy” but to get there they have to add words to the Greek.
4 for out of much suffering and heartache I have written to you, through many tears—not to distress you, but that you might know the immensity of my love for you,
Paul has no desire to cause distress, even though he was not the originator of the trouble, he’s merely told them they have to call a halt to such behaviour. His revelation of the price they would have to pay if they didn’t stop it at once, means that he cannot let it go unmentioned, but his love for them stands in tension with his assessment and leaves him with heartache and tears.
5 and if anyone has caused grief, he’s not distressed me much—for I would not want to burden you all—
All the other translations have suggested that Paul is saying that this sinner has injured the whole assembly. Though technically true, it’s not what Paul is saying: the Greek word here μέρος (méros), which means “part” also means “to some degree” so it cannot be stretched to cover the entire assembly with no additional words, it has to be referring to Paul’s own person. He is telling them that, even though he was distressed they don’t need to be troubled on his account—it’s time to deal with the situation and move on.
6 the punishment of the majority is enough for such a man,
Here he means that being reprimanded before the assembly was traumatic for this man and so further punishment would have been unnecessary.
7 so, to the contrary, you should forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow,
This man thought he was exercising his “freedom in all things,” so he’s feeling a certain shock now that Paul has confronted him so publicly in his sin. He’s distressed and repentant, so he needs to be forgiven for his iniquity and restored to fellowship with the assembly.
8 so I implore you to affirm your love for him.
Again Paul implores rather than commanding. He knows that the entire situation, once dealt with according to God’s principles in the power of the Holy Spirit, will actually be good for both the man responsible and the whole assembly, so he has no further qualms about tackling them on it and implores them to get it right.
9 For this I also wrote to test you: to know if you are obedient in everything.
Here Paul means “obedient to the Holy Spirit” not obedient to the instructions in his letters, as he is very careful to say “implore” rather than “command” every time. His concern is always for their healthy spiritual growth, so he wants to know that they are firstly, listening to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and secondly, obeying Him, as that’s the only way to grow straight and true before God.
10 Now whoever you forgive for anything, I do too; and where I have forgiven anyone, I have forgiven them for your sake, in the presence of Christ,
This would imply that Christ was involved in the forgiveness, ie, looking on and approving, so we can see that Paul has a very immediate and intimate relationship with Christ. What he is doing here is clearing the spiritual atmosphere of the Corinthian assembly, of all the enemy’s footholds, in the presence of God, so they can move on.
11 so that Satan may not take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his strategies.
One of Satan’s most powerful strategies involves tempting us to withhold forgiveness in our anger or pride, and instead to hold on to our offense. We can win many skirmishes with the devil by forgiving all who hurt us. We also have to do so to be obedient to the instructions of Jesus.
12 When I reached Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, though a door had been opened there for me by the Lord,
13 I had no rest in my spirit, as I didn’t find my brother Titus, so, taking leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.
Quite why Titus’ presence was so important to Paul he doesn’t say, but I hope the remaining saints had good success in Troas without him.
14 But thanks be to God, who always gives us the victory in Christ, and reveals through us everywhere, the aroma of the knowledge of him;
We can assume from this that despite not staying in Troas and taking advantage of the “door” the Lord had opened for him, Paul found that he had good results in Macedonia because “God…always gives us the victory in Christ.”
“The aroma of the knowledge of him” is Christ poured out, a sacrificial offering of pure nard; it is the gospel itself;
15 for we are the aroma of Christ, the son of God, among those who are being saved and those who are perishing:
This aroma is also the lives of the saints, lived in sacrifice to the presentation of the gospel of truth to the lost, both those who accept, and those who reject.
Translation note: The Greek word ὁ (ho) is normally translated “the” but can also mean “which,” “who,” “the things,” or even “the son.” No lexicon references “to” at all, so how all the other translations put “to God” is unclear, particularly as the point of the passage is how the “aroma” is perceived by those who hear the gospel message, whether they accept or reject it, but not how God perceives it—referring back to verse 14 we can see that God Himself is the one revealing this aroma.
16 to the one indeed the stench of death unto death; to the other the fragrance of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
The stench of corruption, leading to eternal death; the fragrance of the life of Christ revealed in the saints, leading to eternal joy in His presence. “Sufficient” means competent, worthy, and of fit character; so only Christ is sufficient. To be perpetually the aroma of Christ, to the lost and to the saints, we must be filled with the Spirit and sinlessly living by His power, by the indwelling Christ, and relentlessly denying the flesh and the power of the soul.
17 For we are not like the majority, peddlers of the word of God, but from sincerity we speak in Christ in the sight of God, as from God.
Interesting that the majority of those preaching the gospel in Paul’s day did so for simple financial profit. Those who spoke in Christ, before God, in true sincerity, spoke as from God Himself.
2 Corinthians 3
1 Are we reverting to endorsing ourselves, or do we need, as some do, letters of commendation to you or from you?
2 You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all,
They can only know and read this letter on Paul’s heart by talking to him about them, whereupon they will understand Paul’s excitement regarding their faith.
3 revealing that you are Christ’s letter through our ministry: not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
This is how it works: Christ is building His assembly by rewriting our lives—applying the Holy Spirit to our hearts, not chiselling rules for us to obey.
4 And such confidence in God we have through Christ.
5 Not that of ourselves we are competent, counting anything as from ourselves: our competence is from God,
Nothing we can do will contribute to the kingdom of God: all is done by the Holy Spirit through us. So we claim no credit for anything we do. Paul has become the master of this humility through revelation, special desire, prayer and faith.
6 who also makes us capable servants of the new covenant, not by the writings but by the Spirit, for the writings bring death, but the Spirit gives life.
The important thing to notice here is that, while the Old Testament scriptures ministered death by revealing the sinful nature of the flesh of man, the New Testament scriptures will also minister death if we attempt to live by them as written rules. The new covenant is a life lived in Christ, by faith, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit: it is not about obeying rules. If there is a rule, it is to humbly obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not to “turn the other cheek,” or even to “love one another.” These will automatically be aspects of our lives if we follow the directions of the Holy Spirit.
7 But if the dispensation of death in the writings, though engraved on stones, came with such glory that the sons of Israel could not look directly at the face of Moses because of its glory, even though it was fading,
8 won’t the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?
Comparing a ministry which ministers death, with one which brings vibrant, overcoming life, is going to reveal a huge difference: if the first was glorious, the second is transcendent!
9 For if the dispensation of condemnation was glorious, the dispensation of righteousness far exceeds it in glory,
10 and even that which was glorious has no glory now, by reason of the transcending glory.
11 For if that which is abolished was glorious, that which will always remain has much greater glory.
Many translations miss the point that the mosaic laws were completely terminated by the new covenant and so they put something like “fading away,” implying that there is no particular ending. This is not true. The life lived by obeying rules, any rules, having proved to be impossible for fallen man, was abolished by Christ when He abolished the mosaic law itself.
Many also put “that which remains” which hardly emphasises its eternal permanence, so I have put “will always remain.”
12 So, as we have such confidence, we are quite fearless,
13 unlike Moses, who covered his face so that the sons of Israel could not gaze at the conclusion of what was to be abolished;
This conclusion being the cancellation of all the laws he was giving them. It’s interesting to realise that Moses put the veil on, not to save them from fear, but to keep them from seeing the outcome—the fading of the glory visible in his face, and thus the fleeting nature of what he was giving them.
14 but their minds were veiled, and to this day that darkness remains when the old covenant is read—it is not revealed that in Christ it is abolished.
Most of the other translations struggle with this verse. They get so focused on the veil that they attempt to “abolish it in Christ,” or to have it “done away in Christ,” or even that “it has not been lifted, because only in Christ can it be removed.” This “only” had to be added to make sense of the sentence structure: it is not in the Greek.
What they have not realised is that “the old covenant” is what is abolished in Christ, not “the veil.” To make that clearer, I have reversed “veiled” (veil) and “darkness” (darkened) so that “the old covenant” can become the subject of the final clause.
15 Even today, when Moses is read, the veil lies on their heart,
Translation note: This refers to the “heart” of Israel being veiled from seeing their Messiah.
16 but whenever it turns back to the Lord, the veil will be taken away.
“It” here refers back to the previous verse, to the heart of the nation of Israel turning back to the Lord, not to individuals who come to faith as almost all translations assume. Clearly it is true of individuals also, but that’s not what Paul is talking about.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where there’s the Spirit of the Lord, there’s liberty,
Liberty to see and understand, liberty to follow and serve, liberty to know and love, liberty to bow before God in true humility.
18 and we all, our unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image with increasing glory, which comes from the Lord’s Spirit.
This is all about seeing the truth, God’s reality, because our faces are “unveiled,” and therefore not blinded to it. And we start to reflect what we ‘see’ in the spirit, gradually becoming more and more like what we gaze on, what we meditate upon.
2 Corinthians 4
1 Therefore, having this ministry, since we were shown mercy we’re not despondent;
To the contrary—Paul is noticeably upbeat all the time as he is so clearly aware of everything which is his (and ours) in Christ.
2 instead we have rejected secret, shameful ways: not practicing deviousness nor corrupting the word of God, but, by disclosing the truth, commending ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God.
His response to the grace of God is to have done with every hint of sin, both in his personal life and in his work for the kingdom of God. As a good ambassador, he is very careful to present God’s truth without any changes at all so that those who are called will hear from God and not from Paul’s soul.
3 And even if our gospel is shrouded, it is shrouded to those who are perishing—
4 the god of this age having blinded the minds of those who don’t believe, so that the enlightening of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, would not shine for them.
The nature of Satan’s world system is deliberately to inoculate the rebellious, those who refuse to believe, against the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. This renders them incapable of seeing, hearing or recognising the gift of God: the gracious salvation which Jesus has bought for us with His blood. As a result, they assume that Christianity is just another religion, and that faith is ridiculous.
5 For we don’t preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants through Jesus.
In his humility, Paul is keen to keep himself and his own private concerns out of the picture: his role is to introduce people to Jesus, show them the way of Jesus, and serve them in Jesus’ name. Nothing he says or does is intended to benefit himself in any way; particularly not in terms of his reputation or standing. Always he says, “forget me, look to Jesus!”
There is some disagreement among the translations about whether Paul (and Timothy) are “your servants through Jesus, or for Jesus’ sake.” I’m pretty sure that, while both are true, what Paul is emphasising here is that he and Timothy cannot do anything apart from “through Jesus,” which obviously includes being “your servants” without compromise. It is important to realise that anything we do which is not “through Jesus” by the power of the Holy Spirit, has to be done in the power of the human soul, a power we are not at liberty to use. This is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “deny yourself.”
6 For God, who called light to shine out of darkness, shines in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Translation note: “face” here rhetorically recalls the reference to the face of Moses, (chapter 3, verses 7 and 13), and to our own “unveiled faces” (verse 18). So we see that the glory of the gospel (the new covenant) shines far more brightly and eternally, in Jesus’ face, and thus in our hearts, than the old covenant shone in Moses’ face. The word “face” in this position, however, actually means “in the person of Jesus Christ.” In other words, the glory of the gospel of Christ shines brightly in us because Jesus is in each one.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
Many of the newer translations add “to show that…” or a similar reading, which is not supported by the Greek: it’s not about revealing the power to be from God but ensuring that it is.
The treasure is the gospel; the earthen vessels are the weak and humble apostles (and us today); the power is Jesus residing within them. He is the source of the signs and miracles which follow their preaching and thus their excellence. All they (and we) have naturally to draw on is the power of the soul which, for disciples of Christ is not permitted, so they refuse to, by denying themselves.
Sadly, almost the entire “church” today is built on the power of the soul of man and not the power of the indwelling Christ, so it fails to be the assembly of Christ, and equally fails to reveal Christ within each disciple.
8 In all things we are pressed but not restricted; confused but never at a loss;
Paul is describing the victories of the life of an apostle by a play on words describing the apparent contradictions inherent in it by matching their experiences with their responses. He sets being pressed against being restricted —the obvious effect of being pressed—yet he says they are not: because pressing on the disciple will never confine the Spirit of God, so they will always be able to respond in Christ in every situation, however restricting. God allows them to be confused by each situation as it arises, but Paul says they are never at a loss—again a play on words—because in the Spirit there is always a direction or attitude or condition to follow, so their confusion is never a problem.
9 driven away but not deserted; thrown down but not destroyed;
They are driven away by the rebellious and the unbelievers but never deserted by the Holy Spirit of God; thrown down by their interaction with those who reject the gospel but, even if they are killed they are not destroyed, as they are always safe in the salvation of Christ.
10 always carrying round in the body the death of the Lord Jesus, that his life may be revealed through our bodies.
This is the most important reversal because it is the process by which the life of Christ works in a disciple: they deliberately live out the death of Christ by denying themselves, accepting persecution and the suffering of their bodies and souls in every situation, in order that the resurrection life of Christ may be revealed in all that they do and say. The second requires a total embracing of the first. The life requires the death. Death always has to precede resurrection.
11 For always, we who live are being given over to death through Jesus, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal flesh.
We have to see that every detail of Paul’s life (and our own) is in God’s hands, including the persecution and suffering. When he says, “given over to death,” Paul doesn’t necessarily mean the end of his existence on earth, just the point of death to self, or self-denial, which characterises true discipleship. It is this self-denial which releases the resurrection life of Jesus to be revealed in our interactions with those around us.
12 So then, death is truly working in us, and life in you.
There is an obvious aspect of this where Paul is describing his experience as apostle to the early saints—his particular sufferings in laying the foundation for the assembly of Christ. This would lead to noting the overcoming life available to the assembly as a direct result of the benefit gained by the apostles through their sufferings on behalf of the saints. However, I’m not too convinced that he necessarily means this quite so directly: I suspect the sufferings will apply to every believer, and the resultant life will also be revealed in every believer; so his “us” is universal, and his “you” applies to everyone in the body of Christ (apart from himself and Timothy, who also “live” in Christ).
13 Just as it is written, “I believed, so I spoke,” we also believe, having the same spirit of faith, and so we also speak,
The natural outcome of faith is sharing God’s truth with those who will listen. Those of us who don’t are unnaturally stunted, usually by being members of a “church” in disobedience to Jesus’ words on the matter, where we learned to sit in draughty buildings on hard pews being “fed” by a minister preaching sermons instead of demonstrating the power of God through prayer and the laying on of hands. Speaking out may be seen as a sign of our faith, leading to God raising us in Jesus.
14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us in Jesus, and stand us with you,
15 which is all for your benefit, so that the grace increasing through the many will cause gratitude to overflow to the glory of God.
The “grace” is “increasing through the many” who are out sharing the gospel, so the gratitude is that of the new converts, grateful for the grace of God they have received through the obedience of the saints.
16 So we’re not spent, for even if our outer man is perishing, the inner one is being renewed every day,
Their bodies may be hurting and tired, but their spirits are full of joy in the Holy Spirit.
17 for our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory which exceeds all comparison,
Paul is barely interested in his bodily afflictions as he has seen that they have no weight when compared to the weight of glory we can look forward to. We too will find it much easier to bear sufferings and persecution if we habitually look forward to the glory we inherit in Jesus.
18 so we direct our attention not to what may be seen, but to what is not seen: visible things being transient, while invisible things are eternal.
These invisible things are the sum of our inheritance in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5
1 We know that if the tent that is our earthly house is destroyed, we have a building from God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens;
The “tent” refers to the body as the home of the soul while we live on earth. Once it is destroyed—when we die—the soul is transferred into “a building from God not made with hands,” its resurrection body, where it will live for ever in the heavens.
The point about “not made with hands” is not saying that our heavenly bodies will not have hands, nor that the condition of being not handmade differentiates our heavenly bodies from our earthly ones, since neither are handmade. It refers back to Jesus’ promise to build another temple “made without hands,” (Mark 14:58) where He is talking about His resurrection body, and also cross-references putting off the body of the sins of the flesh as we inherit the perfect circumcision “made without hands” which Jesus experienced (Colossians 2:11). So it means a pure, perfect, sinless, resurrection body, in which all that is in Christ is ours, and which will be eternal: it will never wear out, get sick or die.
This verse may also imply that our heavenly bodies are already in heaven awaiting our arrival, which is possibly what John means when he talks about “many dwelling places” and “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). It may also be what Paul is talking about when he tells those who are still alive at the last trump, that “we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51).
The best part is where Jesus says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode (dwelling place) with him,” (John 14:23). This is the only other place in the New Testament which uses this Greek word, so we can see that Jesus will continue to be with us in our spirits, within our new resurrection bodies.
2 for in this one we sigh, eagerly yearning to be clad in our residence from heaven:
Translation note: the Greek does not include “one,” but simply implies that it refers to this house, or body, from the context. This doesn’t work too well in English so, in common with many other translations, I have added the word.
Our eager yearning is from the Holy Spirit, so He will fulfill this promise—our deepest desire.
3 since, when clothed, we will not be found naked.
God never intended mankind to exist without all three parts: body, soul and spirit; so the soul would be most uncomfortable, and feel very naked without a body for very long.
4 For we also sigh, as those being weighed down in this tent, as we don’t want to be undressed but to be dressed, that the mortal may be swallowed up by the life.
Most of the translations miss the fact that it’s their concern about having to die and thus be undressed of their earthly bodies that leads them to sigh.
All the translations miss the point that what swallows up “the mortal” in them is not just ‘life’ but “the life”—the transcendent, overcoming life of Christ,
“It is the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God, and through Him both to the hypostatic ‘logos’ and to Christ in whom the ‘logos’ put on human nature” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). This life is ours in Christ, so when we are “dressed” in our new resurrection bodies, “the mortal” is “swallowed up.”
5 Now the one who made us fit for this is God, who also gave us the down payment of the Spirit.
This means, “fit for reclothing in our resurrection bodies.” The Spirit of God within us is a down payment of all that will be ours in the sense that what is ours in Christ while we still live in the flesh is only accessible through the Holy Spirit, but once we have permanently shed our earthly bodies and donned our heavenly bodies, all that is ours in Christ will become ours, fully and eternally. I think. For now, the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of our future blessedness.
6 So, always being courageous and knowing that, while at home in the body we are away from our home with the Lord—
In other words, we are bold with the boldness of Christ, ministered by the Holy Spirit, and while we continue to live in our earthly bodies we have no choice but to be at an unwanted distance from the Lord.
7 indeed, we walk by faith, not by sight—
We cannot see where we are going or what we are doing in Christ, as our fleshly eyes cannot see spiritual things. Only the eye of faith can guide us.
8 yet we are courageous, and are very ready to leave the home of the body to be at home with the Lord.
The courage of Christ however, means that if we are called upon to lay down our lives in His service, we are happy to do so, at peace with the demand, because we know that we will be transported into the gracious presence of the Lord, never having to leave again.
9 Accordingly we make it our aim, whether at home in the body or away from it, to be pleasing to him.
When Paul, in this verse, says, “whether at home in the body or away from it” he is no longer talking about dying in Christ’s service, here he is talking about temporarily leaving his body, in the spirit, to commune with God—a practice he writes about in chapter 12, verse 2.
10 For we all must be exposed before the judgment seat of Christ, that each should be recompensed for what was done in the body, whether good or evil.
Almost all the translations are aware that in English the accused “appears” before the judge, so they use “appear” for φανερόω (phaneróō) which actually means, ‘to make visible, known, understood.’ As a result they miss the point that when we face the judgment seat of Christ, all will be exposed, or revealed: all our deeds, good or bad; our characteristics, fine or flawed; our intentions, gracious or vile; and so on. We will then be repaid as appropriate, depending on whether or not we’ve repented and received the forgiveness of God.
11 Having perceived the fear of the Lord, we seek to convince men—what we are is revealed to God and, I trust, revealed to your consciences too.
Paul (and Timothy) have had a revelation of the dread, terror, fear, and sheer awesomeness of God, so they know what is facing those who reach the judgment seat of Christ unrepentant. As a result they strive to convince everybody to repent and be saved. They are entirely true and honourable, which is plain to God, obviously, but Paul wants the Corinthians to see it too—primarily so they will respond appropriately to his letter, but also so that they will learn to hear from the Holy Spirit in their consciences—an important skill they (and we) will need.
12 We’re not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you reason to rejoice over us, so you’ll have a response for those who boast in looking good rather than in what’s in the heart,
What he means is not that they will understand that Paul and Timothy are great guys, but that they (the Corinthians) will be able to put these boasters on the right lines by describing the apostles’ efforts and integrity.
13 whether we were fanatical for God, or whether we’re rational for you,
All the other translations start the sentence at this verse, though it is really just an aside from the previous, so they are forced to try to make sense of it on its own. This they do by dropping the “whether” and adding “it was (for God)” and “it is (for you).” In the process they lose the point that Paul means “infatuated with love for God,” not “(appearing) insane in obedience to God.”
Then he says they are “rational for you” because their words and deeds to the Corinthians are always the product of the sound mind of Christ. He matches the ‘crazy for God’ with the ‘sane for you’ as a rhetorical device in order to make the point memorable for his readers.
14 for Christ’s love compels us, because we have determined that, if one died for all, then all have died.
This naturally follows from Paul’s point in verse twelve: his and Timothy’s lifestyle and behaviour, and his intention in “giving you reason to rejoice over us,” are the result of the love of Christ indwelling each of them.
Christ’s love is a real, existential pressure in their lives, because they have the revelation that the one perfect, sacrificial death for all is the equivalent to all believers having died.
15 And he died for all that those who live should not continue to live for themselves but to him who, for their sakes, died and rose again.
“Those who live” are the believers who have received eternal life in Christ, as compared with those who are still dead in their sins.
The last part of Paul’s revelation, leading to Christ’s love compelling him, is that Christ’s purchase of all was that we should no longer live our lives for ourselves in the flesh, but in His service, by the Spirit.
The reason it ends with “and rose again” is that we can live this life only because He “rose again,” thus giving us His resurrection life to live by. Most translations alter the order of the final line, so they have Jesus dying for them, but then rising again almost as an afterthought.
16 So, from now on we relate to no one in terms of the flesh; and even though we have regarded Christ according to the flesh, we no longer do so.
Paul “regarded Christ” “in terms of the flesh” before he came to faith, which is why he persecuted Christ.
Using the flesh to relate to others, including Christ, is a recipe for disaster: we will immediately fall into sin since the flesh is irredeemably corrupt. Jesus took our flesh to the cross for us so that it would be officially dead—“all have died.” We agree with that judgment and “bury” it by getting baptised. Then we live the rest of our lives in the spirit so we don’t sin any more, since our spirit doesn’t sin.
17 Therefore, if anyone is a new creation in Christ, the original has gone—see, all has become new!
Almost every other translation is determined to make this a definition about being a new creation if they are in Christ, but they have to add both “is” and “they are” to make it work.
Actually Paul is just explaining that the task was fully complete—you can’t be partially a new creation—once you are a new creation in Christ, “all has become new”—even though you don’t feel it!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us this ministry of reconciliation,
Christ is the reconciliation which God provided for us. He also called us to minister this reconciliation on His behalf by sharing the gospel with the lost.
19 that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not accounting their sins to them; and set in us the message of reconciliation.
When Paul says, “set in us the message” he is talking about himself and Timothy, how God put or “set” in them the gospel as an apostolic equipping.
20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We are beseeching, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God,
This is a general plea, since the Corinthians, presumably, were already believers, even if their doctrine and practices were shaky.
21 who made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we may become the righteousness of God.
Christ is the righteousness of God, so, in Him, we become it too.
2 Corinthians 6
1 And so, working together with him, we urge you not to receive the grace of God to no purpose,
Translation notes: The Greek doesn’t have “with Him” after “together” but that is the implication. If left out in English it would come to mean, “Paul and Timothy working together” so, in agreement with the other translations, I have included it. “To no purpose” (or “in vain”) here is defined as: “destitute of spiritual wealth, of one who boasts of his faith as a transcendent possession, yet is without the fruits of faith.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
2 for he says, “at the acceptable time I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Look! now is the acceptable time; Look! now is the day of salvation!
Implying that now God will hear us so now He will help us. The acceptable time and the day of salvation mean any day and every day since the first Pentecost of the assembly of Christ, when the Holy Spirit was given.
3 We give no one cause to stumble in anything, that the ministry may not be discredited,
They are very careful to say or do nothing which might lead the ignorant, naïve, or simple, to sin in any way, so that no one can accuse the gospel of being false. Paul is not particularly concerned about accusations directed at him or Timothy, but he is very determined not to discredit the good news.
4 rather, we commend ourselves in all things as servants of God: in great endurance, in afflictions, in needs, in calamities,
The reason they can commend themselves is because they do everything in obedience and trust, so the perfect life of Christ is revealed in them.
5 in beatings, in prisons, in riots, in drudgery, in vigils, in fastings,
None of this is a plea for sympathy, rather an indication of the reality of the power of God in the Holy Spirit.
6 by purity, by knowledge, by tolerance, by goodness, by the Holy Spirit, by genuine love,
7 by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the weapons of righteousness to the right and left;
All these are the results of serving God in the power of the Holy Spirit through faithful obedience, not claims to being superior in any way.
8 through glory and dishonour, through slander and renown, seen as deceivers but genuine;
Paul starts to list aspects of their lives in terms of contrast, not because all of them are held in any real tension, but to fix them firmly in the thinking of the Corinthians—apparent contradiction being memorable for its incongruity. The glory is due to Christ as His word bears fruit, while their dishonour is only before men, and lost men at that; their slander is ultimately from Satan, their renown from God, before the saints; those who are perishing think they lie, but as ambassadors of Christ they are truly genuine.
9 as unknown though well known, as dying but see—we live, as disciplined yet not put to death;
They are unknown to those to whom they are preaching, but “well known” to God, unknown to the lost, but well known to the saved; they are dying by choice to the flesh and as a result they are living the resurrection life of Christ; they are disciplined by God as sons, but He has not put them to death.
10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet supplying abundance to many, as having nothing yet possessing everything.
They are sorrowful when they consider the lost, and particularly those who reject the message of truth, yet they are rejoicing always in those who are being saved and in Christ dwelling within them all; they have little of this world’s goods but, by leading people to Christ they supply a true abundance—Christ Himself and all that is in Him; they have nothing to call their own, but, in Christ, everything is theirs to use.
11 We have spoken freely to you Corinthians, we have embraced you in love;
Translation notes: The Greek idioms used here are, “our mouth has been opened towards you… our heart has been broadened.” The mouth being opened talks about speaking freely, holding nothing back; the heart being enlarged is talking about welcoming and embracing them in love. Since this version is about finding the semantic content of the Greek, I have (roughly) followed the example of many of the newer translations in putting the meaning rather than the literal idiom, which most of the older translations have selected.
12 there is plenty of room for you in our hearts, but it seems, little space for us in yours.
Translation notes: Again we have idioms in the Greek which basically say, “you are not cramped in us, but you are cramped in your own bowels.” This sounds particularly unpleasant but “cramped,” or constrained, means seriously reduced, and “bowels” is the Hebrew idiom for the more gentle affections. Again I have chosen to put the meaning, in step with many of the newer versions, rather than the literal idiom which the older ones have retained.
13 But, I say this as to children, the proper response to that is to open wide your hearts as well.
As always, Paul’s concern is not that they treat him nicely, but that they practice the proper behaviour of disciples of Christ, revealing Christ in every act and attitude. He says “I say this as to children” because he feels it is so basic that he shouldn’t really have to point it out.
14 Don’t become unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness? And what fellowship has light with darkness?
His concern switches to the dangers inherent in partnering with the lost, in every situation: marriage, business, faith, etc. In such a partnering, the temptations and pressures brought to bear on the believer will make his discipleship that much harder. How can you insist on utterly honest dealing when you’re sharing a business with an unbeliever? How can you give the Lord your best if you have married a non-Christian?
15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what do a saint and a pagan have in common?
Belial is a name for Satan which emphasizes his worthlessness. The problem with these type of partnerships is that believers are, intrinsically, entirely “other” than non-believers: we are facing in the opposite direction; we are “of a different spirit;” we have done with sin; we belong to another; we have “crucified the sinful nature;” we are no longer interested in self; and so on.
16 And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols? For you are the living temple of God, just as God said, “I will reside in them, and walk among them; I will be their God and they will be my people.”
About half the translations change “you are” to “we are” without justification, and many put “a temple” implying there is more than one.
All the translations miss the point that “living” is attached to “temple” and not to “God.” Paul is not concerned to point out that God is alive, he takes that for granted, he is talking about “the living temple” because he is contrasting the temple of the old covenant, which was made of cold stones, with the temple of the new covenant, which is made of “living stones”—the believers.
This is the fulfillment of God’s prophecy, repeated a number of times in both Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It is quoted again in Hebrews (8:10) and reiterated in Revelation (21:7) where “His people” becomes “His children.”
17 So come out from among them and be set apart, says the Lord, have no intimacy with the uncleansed and I will receive you,
Paul is talking about being set apart for God, as well as being separate from unbelievers. Most of the translations refer to the “unclean thing” as if it were a different subject. Paul is not saying “touch nothing impure” here, he simply means that unbelievers are “unclean” in thought and life, unlike true saints, so they were to avoid intimate fellowship or partnership with them or their heathen practices. This is just the continuation of his advice from verses 14 to 16.
At the same time, he is not saying that they should have no interaction with unbelievers at all, as he assumes that they are sharing the gospel with them and serving them in Jesus—just not in partnership.
18 and I will be Father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.
Most translations add “a” to “Father” implying that we could (would?) have other fathers.
But just imagine having the Lord Almighty—God Himself—as your Father, actually being His son or daughter! This is the only place in the New Testament where God calls us His sons “and daughters.” Jesus also addressed the woman whose faith led to her healing as “daughter,” recorded in three of the gospels—in direct response to her faith. And that’s it… nowhere else, showing again how important faith is in our relationship with God.
2 Corinthians 7
1 So, having these promises, beloved, we should cleanse ourselves from every act that corrupts the flesh or the spirit, achieving holiness in fear of God.
Almost every other translation puts “from everything that corrupts” or similar wording. The Greek word used here is μολυσμός (molysmós) which means, “an action by which anything is defiled,” in other words Paul is talking about sins, so to render this as “everything” renders the argument unnecessarily vague.
“Fear of God” covers fear of God, fear of offending God, fear of corruption out of respect for God, reverence for God, and awe of God.
2 Open your hearts for us—we’ve wronged no one, corrupted no one, cheated no one.
Paul really means that they have wronged, corrupted or cheated none of the Corinthians, but this still seems to me a strange basis for the open and intimate fellowship he seeks.
3 I don’t say this in condemnation; I have already said that you are in our hearts, to die together and live together.
“Condemnation:” Paul is concerned that his comments in the previous chapter about them having little space in their hearts for him and Timothy could come across as judgmental, and he also doesn’t want them to conclude that he is accusing them of “wronging, corrupting or cheating anyone,” so he denies that intention.
“I have already said.” This is referring back to chapter 2 verse 2: “You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all,” and chapter 6 verse 12: “there is plenty of room for you in our hearts, but it seems, little space for us in yours.”
Important note: This is specifically not talking about dying in the normal worldly manner. The way Paul describes the life of the disciple involves, firstly, dying—to sin, self, the world, the flesh, and so on—and then, once we have so died, the transcendent, divine life of Christ can be revealed in us and we will truly “live” the overcoming life of Christ. Death precedes resurrection.
Based on that, we have to retain the order of “die” and “live” found in the Greek, and not reverse it as many translations do, since he cannot “live” with them until they have “died” together. What he means is that they are in his heart at such a depth that he would be more than happy to live the life of a disciple of Christ in true fellowship and equality with them every step of the way.
4 I have great confidence in you, and great rejoicing over you. I am filled with encouragement—in all our affliction my joy overflows.
Many of the other translations struggle with the meanings here: they put “boldness of speech” instead of “confidence”; “boasting” or “great pride” instead of “rejoicing”; “comfort” instead of “encouragement.” All these errors seem to have originated in the King James version, and they leave the sense of the verse in tatters. Paul’s concern here is entirely in terms of the Corinthians’ growth in Christ. There is no reference to “speech” in the Greek and the word for “boldness” also means “confidence,” which fits his discussion much better. “Boasting” and “great pride” are entirely fleshly concepts which have no place in Paul’s life or thinking, but the word καύχησις (kaúchēsis) also means “rejoicing” which is clearly his meaning here. As always, he is completely disinterested in his own bodily or emotional pains, so he has no yearning for “comfort”—his life, after all, is the constant working out of the victorious life of Christ—what he can use, however, is “encouragement,” which comes from seeing the Corinthians growing to maturity in Christ. The end result of all this is that their shared affliction actually fills him with great joy, as it provides a challenge to their faith; a challenge over which they are learning to be victorious in Christ; so why would he be interested in “comfort?”
5 For, on our arrival in Macedonia no one could relax, but we were hard pressed on every side: conflicts outside and fears inside.
This shows that the life of an active disciple is a constant struggle, providing endless opportunities to surrender the flesh to death. Every such opportunity taken, may be seen as a stepping stone to intimacy with Jesus, resulting in holiness, because it allows the resurrection life of Christ to be revealed in us. Their “fears inside” were fears that they might fail the Lord at some point, fears that they might express their soul power and thus sin before God, they were not fears of any opposition from men or demons.
6 But he who strengthens the humble, strengthened us with the arrival of Titus;
All the other translations are hung up on the idea that παρακαλέω (parakaléō) has to mean “comfort,” even though it actually means so much more, including: “to admonish, exhort; to beg, entreat, beseech; to encourage, strengthen.” As a result, we can see that the entire thrust of this section has been misrepresented. Paul is not “downcast, depressed, dejected, or discouraged” as the other translations put it: he is victorious, overcoming at every turn. He is not looking for comfort in his misery, since he is filled with joy in the power of the Holy Spirit. What he wants is strength to seize each new day by the throat, and to overcome in every situation. At the same time he is expecting no less of the Corinthians.
7 and not only in his arrival, but also in the encouragement by which he was strengthened over you, telling us of your longing, your mourning and your zeal for my sake, so I rejoiced even more.
Their longing was partly for Paul, but they also longed to put right all that he had reprimanded them for in his last letter; their mourning was their distress over the failures and their deep repentance; their zeal, in response to Paul’s message, was to get everything corrected and forgiven. As a result, Paul is particularly happy that his—very difficult—letter has born fruit and not caused offense.
8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I don’t regret it, though I did have second thoughts. I see that it caused you sorrow, if only for a while.
Paul’s second thoughts were the natural outworking of his love for the Corinthians—he was reluctant to hurt them—but he still sent the letter in obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
9 So now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your sorrow led you to repentance, for you were grieved as God intended, that you might suffer no loss through us.
The outcome of true repentance before God is forgiveness and cleansing, and therefore the Corinthians themselves would also rejoice, both in this blessing and also in their new found passion for Christ. So, far from suffering any kind of loss, they received much to be grateful for through Paul’s previous letter.
10 For godly sorrow produces repentance, leading to salvation without regret; but worldly sorrow leads to death.
The only sorrow which reaches God, and therefore achieves anything, is the Holy Spirit inspired sorrow that leads to repentance, salvation, and eternal life; the sorrow of the world: remorse and guilt, leads to self-pity, self-justification, anger, sin, and ultimately, death.
11 And just consider what earnestness this godly sorrow has produced in you: such a desire to clear yourselves, but also indignation, alarm and longing; and also zeal and readiness to see justice done. In everything you have demonstrated your innocence in this matter.
Translation note: there is an unusual construction in the Greek here: ἀλλά (allá), generally meaning “but,” appears six times in this verse which doesn’t happily translate into English. As a result I have used a single “but” to commence the list and tied the remaining subjects to it using “and” and “also.”
After reading Paul’s previous letter, the Corinthians showed their shock and their zeal to put their lives right, so Paul is really glad he sent it.
12 So, even though I wrote to you, it wasn’t for the sake of the offender, nor for he who was wronged, but to show you the deep concern we have for you in the sight of God.
About half the translations have reversed the meaning of the Greek to read, “the concern you have for us,” but, clearly, the Corinthians already knew their own earnestness, loyalty, devotion etc, (depending on the translation). And consider 2 Corinthians 2:4… Paul was actually letting them see his own commitment to them, in order that they could consider his attitude and copy it in their own lives (Philippians 4:8-9 MCV), and thus grow in holiness.
13 Because of this we have been encouraged through your admonition and we rejoiced even more at Titus’ joy since his spirit was refreshed by you all.
Most of the newer translations put “comforted” instead of “encouraged” and “comfort” instead of “admonition.” As a result, they have to split it into two sentences and thus lose the dependency of the one on the other.
Paul (and Timothy) are encouraged by the Corinthians’ entirely appropriate response to the admonition he had written to them before—and they are sufficiently reinstated into God’s presence that their spirits could refresh that of Titus, filling him with joy in the Spirit.
14 For though I have exulted to him about you, I was not confounded, but just as we spoke the truth to you in everything, so also our glorying to Titus has proved true,
Most of the translations talk about Paul “boasting,” which I dislike as I see Paul far too aware of the holiness of Christ to do anything which could possibly justify using that word. As a result I have used “exulted” and “glorying.”
Paul was telling Titus all about the Corinthians in his excitement (see also the note on 2 Corinthians 3:2), when it occurred to him that their behaviour might well contradict his description when Titus visited them, but he needn’t have worried, they revealed Christ as expected.
15 and his affection for you is all the greater, as he remembers your obedience as you received him with fear and trembling.
They were so unsure of their own ability to serve Titus properly that they actually trembled in their anxiety. Titus, in turn, found it quite endearing and, as a result, has even more affection for them.
16 So I rejoice that I can have total confidence in you.
Paul’s rejoicing is not so much that they won’t let him down when his co-labourers meet them, but that they are faithfully living by the Spirit and growing in the Lord… he has a very strong pastoral anointing.
2 Corinthians 8
1 Now let us tell you, brethren, of the grace of God granted to the assemblies of Macedonia;
Paul is really excited here about the faith displayed by the Macedonians, which the Corinthians’ behaviour has brought to mind.
Translation note: “assemblies” is from the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsía), which is generally rendered incorrectly in the other translations as “churches.” It doesn’t encapsulate any of the meanings or implications of “church” (like buildings, pews, pulpits, altars, priests, sermons, ritual, liturgy, laity, confessions, denominations, and so on), it just means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into a public place; an assembly” This is quite enlightening as it includes the idea of being “called out” from the world, and also, as it refers to “a public place” we can see that disciples should never be hidden away in a “church” building, but out in public where their gospel can bear fruit.
2 that during a great trial of suffering, and from the depths of their poverty, the abundance of their joy overflowed into a wealth of generosity.
Their faith has dramatically overridden their circumstances which would naturally have had them tightening their belts for fear of the future. Instead, they are conspicuous for their unprovoked generosity.
3 For I testify that according to their power, and even beyond it, they freely
This power is theirs through the Holy Spirit, their own soul power being useless in the context of living the victorious life of Christ. This is the dynamic, overcoming power of God which is theirs by faith.
4 and earnestly implored us, that they might share in this grace of service to the saints,
Because the Macedonians are successfully living out the life of Christ, their urgent desire is to serve the saints in the power of the Spirit of God.
5 and—which we hadn’t even hoped for—they gave themselves to the Lord first, and then to us by the will of God.
This is a very difficult verse to translate, as can be seen by most translations which put “not as we hoped,” which, though it seems to be what the Greek says, obviously means exactly the opposite of what Paul is saying. Some try to get round the problem by changing “hope” to “expect,” with the inherent implied reversal relying on English usage rather than Greek; and some simply drop the unwanted negative. I have tried to retain the negative without losing the point of his exclamation, (adding “even” which helps the English, though it’s not in the Greek), and I readily admit this could be incorrect, but I think it captures the idea.
Giving themselves firstly to the Lord, and then, once the will of God was known, to the apostles for the delivery of their gifts is clearly the right process, and one which he wants them (and us) to note for their own growth in Christ.
6 So we urged Titus that, as he had begun, so he should also perfect in you this grace also.
Titus had begun to disciple the Corinthians and had already got them to the point of “excelling in everything,” then he should work with them on the grace of giving, so they would compare favourably with the Macedonians.
7 Therefore, even as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us, excel too in this grace.
So they were to concentrate on, seek for, and pray for, the presence of Christ in their giving.
8 I’m saying this, not as a command, but to prove the sincerity of your love compared with the diligence of others,
Paul clearly sees that he has no authority over the Corinthians as he refuses to issue commands, and he wants them to “prove the sincerity” of their love, to themselves.
9 for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he became poor for you though he was rich, that you might become rich through his poverty.
This is the baseline for our giving: our Lord Jesus actively embraced poverty in order to enrich us who had nothing. Since He gave us everything, then we are released to give of our substance as the Holy Spirit leads.
10 And this is my opinion in this matter: it was good for you a year ago—you were not only willing to give, but actually got on with it.
So the Corinthians not only were keen to give a year earlier, but they actually did so; and yet Paul feels he must tell them to do so, and even test them in so doing.
11 Now, therefore, finish the job, so that you may complete it just as eagerly as you began, according to what you have.
Pride may be far less “eager” if somebody were nagging them to do what they were already doing from their own initiative, but if they were really close to the Lord that would not be an issue—it hasn’t even occurred to Paul that they might sulk.
12 For if there is willingness it is acceptable according to what one has, not what he doesn’t have;
Giving is not just a question of impoverishing yourself for the benefit of someone else, God only asks that we give according to what we have. Ultimately, of course, we should be giving based on the prompting of the Holy Spirit, so His suggested sums will not leave us starving. It’s not so much the gift as the giving which is acceptable (to God).
13 not so that others will be relieved while you are hurting, but that,
14 for equity right now, your excess may go to those in need, and that their excess may also cover your want, so that there may be equity.
Here we see that God never intended there to be rich and poor, the fat and the starving, the second homes and the homeless; because his followers will share what He has provided with those in need, which will work both ways. Also, God never intended anyone to be rich at the expense of anyone else. Nobody is “better than” anybody else before God: all are corrupt!
15 As it is written, “the one with much had no excess; the one with least, no lack.”
This is quoted from Exodus 16:18 where Moses tells about the provision of manna in the wilderness and how the Israelites tried to keep some until morning as they didn’t trust God’s provision, but they found that it rotted and stank before morning. The point is, we are to share what we have, trusting God to supply what we need in turn, so that those in need today will not go hungry, and will therefore praise God for His care for them (through us). At the same time, we will praise God for graciously using us to bless them.
16 But thanks to God who put into Titus’ heart the same earnest concern for you,
The same earnest concern that Paul has for them.
17 as indeed he accepted the appeal, but, being very zealous, he went to you of his own accord.
This appeal is Paul’s appeal to him as he encourages all his charges to do the right thing. Titus however was “already on it” and headed their way.
18 And we sent with him the brother who is praised throughout all the assemblies for his labours in the gospel;
This brother, strangely, remains unnamed, but he must have been pretty impressive to be on a similar level of success in the gospel as Paul himself.
19 and not only that, but he was also selected by the assemblies to travel together with us as we deliver this gracious offering and your zeal, to the glory of the Lord,
Almost all the translations put “to show our eagerness,” “our readiness,” etc but the Greek has no word here for “show” and uses ὑμῶν (hymōn) which is the pronoun of the second person, thereby insisting that it should be “your.” Paul, and his nameless companion, are not going to show off their own eagerness, they are simply going to deliver the Corinthians’ gracious gift, which will plainly also deliver the Corinthians’ zeal.
20 to avoid having anyone criticise us with respect to our handling of this collection.
Having three escorts was the normal Hebrew custom, ensuring the honest administration of such a task.
21 Taking great care to be honourable, not just before the Lord, but also before men,
In addition, Paul and his team are particularly careful to be honourable, and to be seen to be honourable.
22 we also sent our brother with them, whom we have often proved to be diligent in many things, but now more diligent than ever due to his great confidence in you.
Why Paul feels he must withhold the names of his companions I don’t know, but this man’s “great confidence” is in the Corinthians’ Spirit-led generosity: he is confident that the gift will be considerable, so he is being especially diligent.
Many of the translations write that this confidence is Paul’s, though the Greek has no helpful pronoun here, but since it is motivating additional diligence by the unnamed escort, it makes more sense that it it his confidence, not Paul’s.
23 Whether for Titus, my partner and co-labourer to you; or for our brethren, the apostles of the assemblies and the glory of Christ;
All the translations seem to struggle with the meaning here: mainly due to following the King James Version which adds much ‘clarification’ here about “any” “inquiring of” Titus or about Paul’s brethren, in order to justify his apparent explanation of what they are. They also try to avoid the use of the word “apostles” by putting “representatives,” “messengers,” “emissaries,” or even “delegates.”
24 now reveal your love—[the cause of] our rejoicing over you—that you showed to them and the assemblies before.
To reveal their love here is Paul’s appeal to them to give generously, as they have done before. This love is the reason Paul is rejoicing over them. Most of the translations insist he is “boasting” but that is clearly a fleshly behaviour, totally at odds with his life in the Spirit, and the Greek word equally means “rejoicing.” This love the Corinthians have previously revealed—to Titus, the apostles and their assemblies—through the generosity of their giving.
2 Corinthians 9
1 But it’s really redundant for me to write to you about this service to the saints,
Paul says he doesn’t really need to write this, but then he writes it anyway, showing that he’s not quite as confident as he claims. He’s trying to make sure they won’t contradict his rejoicing over them by allowing their flesh to subvert their zeal and thus reduce the generosity of their “promised gift.”
2 as I know your zeal, which I rejoiced to tell the Macedonians about—that Achaia has been ready to give for a year now; and your zeal has motivated most of them.
Almost all the translations insist that Paul was “boasting” about the Corinthians, in each of these three verses, but Paul was rejoicing over their faith and, in doing so, attempting to inspire the Macedonians to similar heights.
If he had actually been boasting, he would have been encouraging competitiveness between the assemblies as their motivation for doing what they should have been doing for love. This would not be his intention as it would be entirely the wrong motive and entice them into living (giving) by the flesh.
3 So I sent the brethren, in order that our rejoicing over you would not prove empty in this, that you would be ready just as I told them,
Not only is Paul covering himself by writing to them, he’s even gone so far as to send men to supervise their behaviour. Contrary to appearances, this is not because his confidence in them is weaker than he claims, it is so the presence of “the brethren” with them will build them up, strengthening their faith and inspiring them in their giving.
4 and if some Macedonians come with me, to avoid them finding you unprepared and that we were not describing you, as we would be confounded in our confident rejoicing,
All the translations use the wrong meaning of the Greek word λέγω (légō) which means to say, speak, tell, or describe; so they put “to say nothing of you” or something on those lines, though the Greek says, “that we were not describing you.” They also put “we would be ashamed,” or “embarrassed” where he has written “confounded” ie contradicted or refuted, not ashamed or embarrassed.
5 I thought it necessary to urge the brethren to go to you in advance, to prepare your promised gift, so it may be ready as a blessing, and not reluctantly given.
So his concern here was not with reference to his “shame” or “embarrassment,” but entirely for the Corinthians and the Macedonians and the strength of their faith and thus their zeal. He wants the Corinthians to rejoice in their generous support of the saints in Jerusalem, and the Macedonians to be inspired to greater zeal by seeing that generosity.
6 And consider: he who sows sparingly, will reap sparingly, and he who sows generously, will reap generously.
Translation note: The first two words in the Greek mean “and this” or “yet this,” so, as that means nothing very obvious in English and he is clearly suggesting they read it and ‘take it on board,’ I thought that “consider” would work well.
This idea is exactly what farmers and gardeners have long known and always used, and it’s only modified on the ground by uncontrollable factors like the weather and pests. One thing is for sure: any farmer who only sows “sparingly,” can only hope to reap sparingly; if he wants to reap “generously” he’s going to have to sow generously. And as we know, this applies to our lives as disciples in every area.
7 Each should give as he has settled in his heart, not grudgingly or compelled, for God loves a joyful giver.
Translation note: “should give” seems to be a commonly agreed (and necessary) addition, and I have translated ἱλαρός (hilarós) as “joyful” because I felt that “cheerful” contains a hint of ‘keep smiling, even though it hurts’ which is definitely not what Paul is saying; “joyful” says (to me) ‘giving feels so good!’ Only the Aramaic Bible agrees.
God has no use for gifts which are not joyfully given, because the lie is built in to them, in much the same way as ‘works’ which are done ‘in the flesh’ cannot contribute to the kingdom of God or the assembly of believers. A blessing without the intention to bless, ie, grudgingly given, is not a blessing at all. So we see that God’s reality is a very deep thing, perceiving the most subtle motivations of our deeds themselves, to say nothing of our hearts.
8 And God is mighty to lavish you with all grace, so that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may excel in every good work,
All the other translations put “God is able,” but I feel that, in that form it implies that ‘He might, or He might not, but don’t think He can’t,’ but I’m sure Paul is really saying that ‘God will supply, generously, by His infinite power,’ as the word δυνατός (dynatós) also means powerful, mighty and strong. Otherwise we couldn’t always rely on having all we needed to “excel in every good work,” the certainty of which Paul is trying to make clear.
9 as it is written, “he has dispersed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
This is a quote from Psalm 112:9, which says “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever; their horn will be lifted high in honour,” a short section describing the blessedness of the man who fears the Lord, mixed in with lines also describing the Messiah (who also fears the Lord), so this is also describing the inherent generosity of God. Just as the Messiah has graciously dispersed His blessings to all in need and given to the poor, so should we, in the same spirit of generosity, built on our trust in God to supply our needs in turn.
“Their horn will be lifted high in honour” is a blessing for the generous implied by Paul, through his quoting from it, even though he actually stops short. As a result, doing as Paul is suggesting by quoting this verse, would result in it being confirmed or verified by their action. So we will find we can continuously give to the needy, as our personal resources will never be depleted. Experimental proving of this promise has led some to coin the phrase, “you cannot outgive God.”
“Righteousness” in Hebrew thought is virtually equivalent to alms giving, so it is the act of giving itself which will endure forever to their credit before God.
10 He who supplies seed for the sower and food for the consumer, will supply you with seed and multiply it, and augment the fruits of your righteousness,
Translation note: this verse echoes the structure of “seed for the sower” with “food for the consumer” in a common Hebrew construction (in particular see Isaiah 55:10), not the clumsy “bread for food” which most translations put. I have used “consumer” rather than “eater” as it is more general usage today.
The seed which God will supply is their (our) means and resource for contributing to the needs of the poor.
Paul takes the previous verse as referring directly to God and His gracious provision for all, therefore He will provide all they will need to be generous, so He will increase their ability to help and serve the poor, as they step out in joy to do so and, consequently, increase their credit with Him.
11 enriching you in everything for constant generosity which, with us, causes thanksgiving to God.
God’s provision is for the very purpose of constantly giving to the needy, so Paul’s wish is that they use their wealth to benefit others—particularly the poor saints of Jerusalem.
The reason it will cause thanksgiving to God “with us” is that Paul plans to distribute their gifts in such an honourable manner that God will get all the thanks: from those who receive, and from those rejoicing to give.
12 And this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also overflows in much thanksgiving to God
13 through the proofs the ministry provides: their glorifying of God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ; the generosity of your contribution to them and to all;
14 and their prayers for you, longing for you because of the superior grace of God in you.
They “long for” the Corinthians because there is a strong, and inevitable attraction for all true believers towards those saints who are filled with the Spirit and thus, through their obedience, reveal the indwelling Christ and the grace of God.
15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.
God’s gift being the grace of giving, together with the inexhaustible supply making it possible, with all its benefits to everyone, particularly the improvement of our relationship with God Himself—the original ‘win-win’ arrangement. As a result, its values take it beyond description.
2 Corinthians 10
1 Now I, Paul, appeal to you myself, in the meekness and gentleness of Christ, whose presence in you is truly humility, so I have confidence in you in my absence,
Paul’s appeal, like everything else he does, is in Christ and thus is built on the character of Christ, in this case His “meekness and gentleness.”
Most translations get very lost here because they start off assuming that the King James version is basically correct. It’s not. Paul is not talking about himself—either being humble, “timid” or “meek” when face to face with them, or “bold” from a distance—an idea they have picked up from verse 10. He is talking about the presence of Christ in the Corinthians; there are simply not enough words in the Greek to justify their additions. In the end they get so lost in the idea that Paul is talking about himself that they actually entitle this section “Paul’s defense of his ministry” or even “Paul describes himself.” Neither being his subject at all.
Paul contrasts the presence of Christ in them with his own absence from them. Unlike most translations have it, he is not suggesting that he is only “bold” when not confronted by them, nor is he agreeing that he is “weak” in their presence. That would depict him as cowardly to the level of being unable to tackle their sin on the spot, but having to go away and write them a letter! And of course, we can see that neither is he talking about their sin at this point. He is simply encouraging them in accordance with his gifting, by telling them of his confidence in their faithful obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and giving them sound advice on the best attitude to maintain towards their flesh.
These translators don’t see that the Corinthians have a special place in his heart, and his love for them would totally override any supposed fleshly weakness or timidity anyway—the stakes are too high. And manipulative behaviour, such as sneaking off to write them a letter, would be positively dangerous for them, because Christian discipleship can only ever function correctly when straightforward, honest and true. Manipulation of other people runs entirely counter to God’s way of thinking—the Bible generally describes it as witchcraft—and would thus be sinfully disobedient on the part of Paul himself.
We don’t need to worry however—he is actually simply expressing his confidence in their faith being up to fulfilling their promise from the end of chapter 9.
The word they translate as “bold,” in this situation means ‘to have confidence,’ and it says “in my absence” because his confidence is not dependent on actually being there to strengthen and encourage them—he doesn’t need to because the presence of Christ is active in them.
Paul, contrary to what most translations say, is making the point that humility in Christ and real courage are not opposites, nor even contradictory, they are in fact both important aspects of real faith in Christ, and support one another. We are to have, and demonstrate, both the humility of Christ, and His invincible courage, by our faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
2 yet I am entreating you, since I’m not present, to have courage, with the confidence I’m counting on to be fearless before any who suppose that we walk by the flesh.
Translation note: Paul is urging them to have courage, because it takes courage to give generously by faith, which is still the thrust of this section. In Paul’s understanding, their courage in giving by faith is equivalent to the fearlessness of faith he will need to obediently, and thus fruitfully, serve the Lord in the presence of the doubters at Corinth, who have assumed that he is walking by the flesh. His reference is to the power he will need to draw upon to show them that he and Timothy are not “walking by the flesh” and they are speaking for the Lord, demonstrated by the power of God accompanying their words and deeds. From this we can conclude that there are no varieties of courage or faith in the life of a disciple—all come down to complete trust in the prompting and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
3 For, though we walk in the flesh, we don’t war by the flesh:
Some of the newer translations lose the clear references to the flesh, strangely assuming that ‘the world’ and ‘the flesh’ are equivalent, and that both simply mean ‘unspiritual.’ Sadly, this betrays an ignorance of spiritual realities—the flesh being ‘the traitor on the inside’ while the world is ‘the enemy’s system of traps on the outside,’ and both are far more serious enemies to our faith than is implied by the simple word ‘unspiritual,’ which implies a technical failure, while Paul is thinking of a catastrophic spiritual failure.
The important distinction in here is the comparison of “walk in the flesh” with “war by the flesh.” Until we leave these bodies and get our resurrection bodies, we have no choice but to “walk in the flesh,” but Paul says we cannot consider waging war, on Christ’s behalf, using our (utterly corrupt) flesh, any more than we can think of fighting the flesh (the bodies) of other people. (This also shows the Satanic and fleshly source of the Crusades—they were not at all an expression of true discipleship, but an unholy land grab based on the greed and pride of the Catholic popes—much like Dominionism today is for the false prophets.)
4 the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but the power of God for destroying strongholds,
Translation note: the weapons of our warfare do not “have divine power,” nor are they “divinely powerful,” as the other translations tell us, implying that there are a number of such weapons, they are the divine power required, showing that the power provided by the Holy Spirit is the only weapon we will ever need. We think of the word of God as a “weapon” from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, but it still comes down to the power of the Holy Spirit through our faith in the word. The important point is that our intention, our strength, and the outcome of our “warring” is the destruction of “strongholds,” not people, religions or regimes.
By “fleshly weapons” Paul is not talking about swords, guns or bombs, his “fleshly weapons” would be eloquence, natural charisma, emotionalism, logic, reasoning, etc—all built on the power, or strength, of the soul of man and not requiring the input of the Holy Spirit. Many ‘evangelists’ today use these weapons to extend the ‘church,’ and, as a result, fail utterly to extend the kingdom of God. The means used by the apostles and the early disciples to spread the gospel were: the word of God, prayer, preaching, and example, none of which really counts as a weapon. These all work by faith in God, and only by faith; and without the faith, even these won’t work.
The “strongholds” would be ignorance, prejudice, unbelief, philosophies, theories, religions (idolatry), ideas (pride), and so on, which contradict the truth of God. We are not looking to “destroy” these in other people, we are however to be fully alert to their presence in ourselves and eradicate them from our own thinking.
5 casting down reasonings, and everything raised up against the knowledge of God; capturing every thought to the obedience of Christ;
“Reasonings” in the flesh are a serious trap for the unwary, as they allow the enemy to cast doubt on the word of God and His truth, leading us into disobedience, so we must cast them down using Christ’s faith in the power of God. This is when our ‘sensible’ head considers the pros and cons of a particular temptation or direct instruction from God compared to what the world or the flesh would say, and starts to justify and excuse our behaviour—eventually we find we have talked ourselves into sinning.
“Everything raised up…” refers to the strongholds of the previous verse and the fact that men proudly exalt their lying theories in defiance of God.
“The knowledge of God” could equally mean ‘God’s knowledge,’ ie, absolute truth, or ‘our knowledge of God,’ or ‘anyone’s knowledge of God.’ I think the last is the most likely (though all are true), as these opposing ideas are developed by the enemy to make everyone’s faith in God as difficult as possible.
We need the power (the Spirit) of God to both alert us to our wrong thoughts, and empower us to capture them and correct them so they won’t undermine our faith.
“The obedience of Christ” doesn’t really mean “to obey Christ,” as most translations put it, though it will have that effect, it means to align each thought with the thought of Christ, whose sole motive and intention was (and is) to obey the Father.
6 and holding ourselves ready to vindicate every failure to hear, once your hearing is fully trained.
All the translations assume that Paul is preparing to “punish,” “avenge” or, at least “reprimand” anyone who disobeys (presumably Paul’s own teaching but possibly God’s commands) once they have learned to obey. This is a travesty of Christianity, which is about repentance and forgiveness in Christ. (Catholicism is about punishment for disobedience, but Paul was laying the foundation for the assembly of believers—His body—not for Catholicism or “the church.”)
“Failure to hear” or, more properly, “refusal to hear” is from the Old Testament where it means disobedience, though the idea of ‘hearing’ comes up again in Hebrews 5:8 which, though it has been translated “he learned obedience by the things which he suffered,” actually means “he learned to listen attentively to the voice of God so he could obey it…” So “once your hearing is fully trained” could be rendered, “once you have fully learned to hear the voice of God.”
Paul’s “preparation” is to vindicate any apparent failures, on the part of the Corinthians, before men (God already being fully aware of their pure hearts), ‘proving’ their innocence: the completion of their “learning to hear” meaning that they were fully committed to obedience and properly trained to hear God’s voice, so they would have been living a life without sin by definition.
Paul has nothing to say here about punishment and would never have claimed the right to punish anyone: his task was apostle, not judge nor executioner. (In 1 Corinthians 5:5 Paul instructs them to “deliver” the sinner “to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.” This was not a punishment, but a surgical method of saving the offender’s spirit “on the day of the Lord Jesus.” Though painful, it actually showed how much Paul cared, even for the rebellious.)
7 Beware of outward appearances: if anyone has persuaded himself that he is Christ’s man, let him think again regarding himself: just as he is Christ’s, so too are we.
Most of the translations start the verse translating the Greek word βλέπω (blépō) as “look,” so they force this into an accusation or a question, but I suspect it’s better translated as “beware” since he is warning them that “outward appearances” can trip them up.
The idea is that this man is persuading himself that he is Christ’s only man – the man of the hour – and getting puffed up about it, and in the process writing off everyone else. Paul says “no, we all are.” His point is that we can never be the only man on God’s team, so if we reach that conclusion we need to “think again,” and concentrate on our humility.
His thought about “outward appearances” seems a little premature here – he doesn’t really build on it until verse 10 – but this man has reached his conclusion by regarding the “outward appearances” of his brethren in the assembly.
8 For though I’m somewhat overjoyed by our authority, which the Lord has given us for building you up and not for pulling you down, I won’t be ashamed
The other translations all put “boast” or “boasting” for καυχάομαι (kaucháomai), but Paul is living entirely by the Spirit, so boasting, in the modern sense, is not part of his thinking at all. Much better to use the alternative meaning “to glory,” “rejoice,” or “to joy.”
God has given Paul and Timothy the “authority,” the right or the influence, to build the Corinthians up in the Lord—by preaching, teaching, prayer, example, and the laying on of hands—which he is rejoicing to operate in as he sees their faith grow.
Most of the other translations end the verse with a full point, which makes the “ashamed” refer back to Paul’s supposed “boasting,” so they have him defiantly refusing to be ashamed of his boasting, which by implication he knows to be wrong. It actually refers to his completely appropriate use of his “authority,” which is why he won’t “be ashamed.”
9 as I would never intend to alarm you by my letters,
Translation note: The Greek word δοκέω (dokéō) has been translated as “seem” by most other versions, ie. “seem to frighten you,” some of which have added “be trying to” in order to make it work, but it doesn’t need that as it also means “think,” “suppose,” “please,” etc. Paul is not talking about what might “seem” to be, but reassuring them of his intention: his only concern is to build them up (in obedience to his own calling) through his letters, an intention which he achieved very successfully, as we saw in chapter 7, verse 9.
10 even though, truly, some say the letters are stern and powerful, but that my presence in the body is weak and my speech worthless.
Those who say this are misjudging both the content of his letters which, as we know, are ideal for building up the body of Christ because they are the word of God, but also Paul himself in the body, as his teaching and support of them, though actually powerful and authoritative, are couched in the divine love of Christ and so appear gentle, humble and meek. As far as his speaking is concerned, we know that he is deliberately refusing to use either the power of his own soul, or the compelling power that can be built in to words by the inappropriate use of rhetoric which, as a Pharisee, he would have been trained in.
11 Let such a person ascertain that what we are in word by letter when absent, we are also in our actions when present.
Most translations imply that Paul agrees that his letters are too tough by changing his actions to the future tense, thus making this verse, wrongly, sound like a threat. But if we look again at verse 9 we see that he has no intention of alarming them. He is not threatening anybody, just pointing out that what he represents (in love) in his letters, is exactly what he represents in person—that the two aspects of his work are entirely in alignment with each other.
12 And we daren’t measure or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves, but in measuring themselves, and comparing themselves with each other, they are without understanding.
Paul knows that there is only one standard: Jesus, only one plumbline: the word of God. If we measure or compare ourselves by anything less, like each other, we will deceive ourselves, fooling ourselves into believing that we are much holier than we really are. But if we measure ourselves by Jesus, we will always fall short since our flesh is irredeemably corrupt—exactly why we’re not supposed to live by it. As a result, Paul refuses to even consider such foolishness.
Elsewhere (1 Corinthians 4:3,5) he has told us that we’re not to judge one another, he doesn’t even judge himself: he is so Christ-focused that he doesn’t bother to measure his own behaviour. He isn’t interested in even looking at himself, far less comparing himself with others, however holy they may claim to be. This is referring back to the man in verse 7 who thinks he’s special.
13 Yet we will not celebrate beyond our limits, but only to the extent of the sphere which God has allocated to us, a sphere which reaches as far as you.
All the translations insist that Paul is talking about “boasting” again, and so they talk about the legitimate limits of that boasting. He is not, since boasting per se is not legitimate. He is referring back to his rejoicing in verse 8, talking about the sphere of activity which God has assigned to them (he and Timothy) which is not only the geographic area including the Corinthian assembly, but also the specific line of work they pursue. Within this sphere they are free to rejoice in the work the indwelling Christ is doing through them.
14 So it’s not as though coming to you were stretching ourselves beyond our borders, as we did come even as far as you with the gospel of Christ.
Translation note: this verse is pretty tricky, as can be seen by the extensive variety in the meanings provided by the other translations. The differences from mine may be tracked, but they are too numerous to outline here.
He doesn’t want to tread on anyone else’s patch, but he is claiming that the Corinthians are on his patch, so he is clearly at liberty to “celebrate” all that Christ is doing in and through them.
15 We won’t celebrate, beyond our own limits, the labours of others, but we do have a confident expectation of growth in your faith in our own domain, to be celebrated abundantly among you.
The other translations still stick with “boast” but Paul would never boast anyway, so he wouldn’t specifically preclude boasting of other’s labours. Then they get confused by μεγαλύνω (megalýnō) which means to magnify, to declare great, to esteem highly, to celebrate; so I have used “celebrated.” They misunderstand ‘magnify’ and change it to ‘extend’—not the same meaning at all—while completely ignoring the semantic content of the word clearly indicated by the other meanings, so they can “enlarge” or “extend” Paul’s sphere of influence: not what he is talking about at all. There are also other anomalies among various versions.
Paul is simply looking forward to his and Timothy’s legitimate celebration among the Corinthians over their growing faith.
16 We are also ready to celebrate taking the gospel beyond you, not in another’s patch;
The other translations again revert to “boast” so they have to attach the “not” to the boasting. But Paul is still talking about “celebrating” so the “not” can stay attached to the “patch” of another.
Paul means “beyond you” in a geographic sense, since there is nobody preaching there yet, so the field is virgin territory. He can confidently plan to celebrate because he has no doubt at all that they will have much fruit there.
17 but the one who rejoices, let him rejoice in the Lord,
Still most of the newer translations insist on “boast” for reasons of continuity. As a result they are continuing to say the wrong thing.
What Paul is saying is, ‘don’t think to rejoice in your own efforts or holiness, because if it is worth celebrating at all, it is because it’s the Lord’s fruit, not yours.’ “Rejoice in the Lord” means ‘celebrate who He is, what He is, and all He achieves through us;’ and also, ‘celebrate under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and, through faith, by His power.’ We couldn’t possibly “boast in the Lord,” ie, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, because He is holy, and would never “boast,” so we would have to boast “of” the Lord, which, though better, is still dodgy.
18 as it’s not the one who approves himself who is accepted, but he whom the Lord approves.
If we rejoice in our own fruit, growth, or holiness and not in Christ’s, we will trip ourselves up. Paul is saying, ‘so don’t get hung up trying to assess your holiness or measure your growth, because you will deceive yourself, and your final approval is the Lord’s responsibility, not yours.’
2 Corinthians 11
1 I hope you will endure a little foolishness, and bear with me,
Paul’s “foolishness” here is simply his thought that they might have been deceived and so would let themselves down by not giving joyfully. He says “bear with me” because he wants to make the point but has no desire to offend.
2 for I am burning with zeal for you, with the fervour of God. I betrothed you to one husband, to present a pure virgin to Christ,
Translation notes: the word for “present” also means ‘to stand beside,’ so we can see that Paul has a very personal interest in the spiritual maturity of the Corinthians. The word “betrothed” is mistranslated “promised” in many translations, but it is very much more specific than that.
Since we are all to be Christ’s “pure virgin,” we can see that we must each, individually, learn to live a ‘pure’ life before God in the power of the Holy Spirit, otherwise we could miss it and find ourselves disqualified from becoming part of the Bride of Christ.
We can also see that God is the one who primarily has “the fervour” to see us purified, it is not simply “a godly jealousy,” as many of the translations put it—He loves us and longs for us with such a zeal that it led Him directly to the cross for us.
3 but I fear, in case somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds might be corrupted from the openness of heart in Christ.
All the translations translate ἁπλότης (haplótēs) as ‘devotion’ or ‘simplicity’ or similar, and so miss the point that the “openness of heart” refers directly to the generosity which Paul has been discussing and encouraging. If they have been “corrupted” away from this generosity, then the gift they promised would be given reluctantly. This is one aspect of the enemy’s deception, ie, if we are not deceived, we will naturally give joyfully. All deception is, ultimately, from the enemy.
Translation note: the word for “corrupted” also means ‘defiled’ or ‘destroyed,’ which shows that being deceived means being defiled, and would lead to us being ‘destroyed,’ or lost. This is why God commands us not to be deceived—He doesn’t want to lose anyone!
4 For indeed, if someone comes proclaiming another Jesus whom we don’t preach, or you receive a different type of spirit from that which you received, or a different gospel from what you accepted, you bear with him graciously.
The Corinthians may have been very gracious with those bringing deception into their midst, but Paul is worried that they appear to have no discernment. These people should have been politely, but firmly, ejected, along with their lies.
Here we see that Paul’s “confidence” in them is more polite than actual: he already knew that they were listening to the enemy, receiving a different spirit or gospel or another Jesus, and was therefore worried that their generosity might have been compromised.
5 For I’m sure I don’t fall short of even the most eminent apostles,
Most of the newer translations use the term “super-apostles” though it is a modernism which makes me uncomfortable.
Paul is suggesting that they are listening to alternative gospels because they suspect he is a lesser apostle than some others, and therefore worthy of less respect. This upsets him, not in his own interest but in theirs, as their spiritual growth is coming under threat. The reason Paul knows he isn’t falling short of any apostle is that he has inherited all that is in Christ and all the giftings of an apostle—how could any other be better equipped?
6 but, though I am simple in speech, yet not in knowledge, which has been clearly revealed to you in all things.
So he is saying, “come on people, you’ve seen the power and the knowledge we brought you, so don’t throw your faith away now on lies!”
Paul’s simplicity of speaking is not in any sense due to lack of breeding or education (in contradiction to the other translations), but simply because he is being led by the Holy Spirit to put things very simply so even the youngest and least informed will have no trouble understanding the gospel.
7 Have I offended in humbling myself to exalt you, by declaring the gospel of God to you free of charge?
“Offended.” This is rendered “sinned” in many translations but, while he may have offended someone’s pride by refusing any payment, sharing the gospel with them could never be a “sin.”
“To exalt you.” He means that they were exalted, ‘to dignity, honour and happiness’ (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon), by their saving faith in the gospel, not that they were made ‘more important’ in any sense.
8 I robbed other assemblies, taking an allowance to serve you,
Paul clearly didn’t actually rob any assembly, his allowance would have been freely given in Christ. His point is that there was no need to take offence at the fact that his labours were “free of charge” since they actually weren’t. As always, almost every other translation mistranslates ἐκκλησία (ekklēsía) as “churches.”
9 and, when I was with you and in need, I was no burden to anyone as the Macedonian brethren supplied all my needs, so in everything I have avoided burdening you and will continue so to do.
Paul went to great lengths to present the gospel without strings of any sort, so that no one would feel they had paid for it in some way. Though, of course, to make it work, true discipleship costs the disciple everything.
10 The truth of Christ lives in me, so my celebrating will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.
He means that the truth of Christ directs and empowers him, so he will continue in Christ celebrating the Corinthians’ faith and love throughout Greece.
11 For what reason if I don’t love you? God knows
Translation note: The last two words of this verse start the next verse, they are not a clumsy way of answering the question, which all the translations assume, though they mostly have two questions: “Why? Because I don’t love you?” so they try to answer the second by appealing to God with “God knows [I do].” But it all works rather better if we keep the sentence together.
12 what I am doing and will continue to do, so that I might cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be regarded as our equals in what they boast about.
This reads as though Paul were jealous for his reputation, but his concern is that the Corinthians should clearly see the difference between his teachings and the teachings of those who are trying to claim equality, between his character and theirs, so that they won’t be so easily deceived. God is his witness, his commander, his resource and his guide. He is not seeking to punish these pretenders, just to reveal their duplicity.
13 For these men are bogus apostles, deceitful workers disguising themselves as apostles of Christ,
14 and no surprise, for Satan himself transforms into an angel of light
15 so it’s no wonder if his servants also pretend to be servants of righteousness. Their end will be in line with their works.
This is why God is so concerned that we shouldn’t be deceived: because He knows how the enemy and his followers will appear genuine and on the side of the angels, but will actually be laying traps for the saints. If we are deceived we will fall into the traps and be lost—at least to the battle.
16 I say again, no one should think me a fool; but if you do, then receive me as a fool, that I too may boast a little.
Translation note: this section, from verse 12, I believe, is about the only place in all of Paul’s letters where his use of the word καυχάομαι (kaucháomai) actually means “boast,” and here he specifically points out (verse 17) that he is not speaking in the Lord, but “as a fool,” in order to make his point.
He is so determined that all should understand that boasting is not an option for disciples, ever, that he repeats that he is speaking “as a fool” in verse 21 and again in verse 23. Boasting is something only fools practise, and Paul is no fool: because of his deep revelations and his intense relationship with God, he is probably one of the most humble men on the planet at the time, so he knows that boasting, in any context, is a ridiculous concept for any disciple of Christ.
17 What I’m saying I don’t say in the Lord, but as a fool, with all the assurance of the boast;
The Hebrew word for fool is used throughout the Old Testament to describe not simply the stupid but also the brutish, the unwise, those who hate others, the complacent, the wicked, the evil, the arrogant, the angry, the careless, those who lack understanding, display dishonour and folly, bring grief, practise deception and are deceived, cannot be corrected, and reject God, purity, and the truth.
With all this understood, Paul says his “boasting” is “not in the Lord,” because it cannot be—boasting is sinful—so he explains that to boast is to be “as a fool.” He is not, in any sense, defending his boasting; he is using the form to make his point. So this entire section is not “boastimg” at all, but a plea to their hearts not to be deceived by anyone’s boasting, nor to boast themselves.
18 since many are boasting in the flesh, I too shall boast
If we boast, we boast in the flesh, so we will normally also boast of the flesh as it’s usually our ‘achievements’ or ‘choices’ of which we boast; if we are ‘in the Lord,’ our humility entirely cancels all boasting, even as our flesh dies “in Christ.”
So we can see that Paul’s “boasting” is not in the flesh, as Paul no longer does anything in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and therefore cannot be boasting—it is fake boasting entirely intended to make a point.
19 for you, being so wise, gladly bear with the foolish.
Note Paul’s gentle irony at this point: he wants them to detect it and realise their error—that their wisdom is not grounded in reality but in the flesh, instead it must be grounded in the Lord.
20 You tolerate it if anyone enslaves you or consumes you; if anyone takes from you, exalts himself or strikes you in the face.
Paul is pointing out what their “toleration” is achieving for them: they are running after others who preach “another” but useless gospel, enslave them again in sin, steal their salvation from them, exalt themselves over them, and abuse them, generally disgracing them. All these losses that the Corinthians are exposing themselves to, in their “tolerance,” are spiritual, and therefore eternal losses, not physical or worldly losses, which, in themselves, would be unimportant. And all for claims which Paul, even just in the flesh, can easily surpass! If all their boasting had any value at all, boasting in Paul would actually make more sense—even just in the flesh!
Most of the translations assume, some explicitly, that these losses are of bodily liberty, worldly goods and property, personal control, and of social disgrace. But these are all things which, as disciples of Christ, we should be prepared to lose, even expect to lose, in order that the will of God be fulfilled and the souls of the lost be saved. If we compare this passage with Hebrews 10:32-39 we see that our personal sacrifice is exactly what we should be prepared for, not what we should be resisting by refusing to tolerate others. Those who attempt to deceive are to be resisted because they bring lies to steal our salvation, not because they steal our property. And our resistance will also help to protect those with whom we have some influence.
21 I’m talking about disgrace as though we had been weak, but where anyone is bold (speaking as a fool) I too am bold.
Every newer translation and some of the older ones, assume that Paul is confessing to being too weak to tolerate the indignities of verse 20, and is consequently ashamed of himself. What he actually means is that they were rejecting his teaching on the grounds that they (falsely) judged him “weak” when, in the Lord, his “weakness” was the (entirely proper) meekness of Christ—at the same time he was as “bold” as anyone: as “bold” as Jesus was when addressing the Pharisees and others, but only as and when it was appropriate.
Again he can’t bring himself to simply present this as real “boasting” but has to remind them that to do so at all is to behave as a fool, with all that that implied, (see note verse 17).
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they seed of Abraham? So am I.
So, for the next few verses Paul equals or beats any possible fleshly claim of anyone, that the Corinthians could be shipwrecking their faith on.
23 Are they servants of Christ? (still speaking as a fool) I am more: I’ve worked far harder; been beaten countless times; imprisoned more often; frequently faced death;
24 five times I received the ‘one-short-of-forty’ lashes from the Jews;
25 three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; I spent a night and a day in the sea;
26 on many journeys; in danger on rivers; in danger of bandits; in danger from my own people; in danger from the Gentiles; in peril in the city; in peril in the wilderness; in peril at sea; in peril among false brethren;
27 in strenuous and painful labours; in frequent watches; in hunger and thirst; in fastings often; in cold and nakedness.
Paul’s natural position, as an apostle of Christ, is one of utter humility, before God and man, to the point where he rejoices in those situations where he is humiliated or shamed and where he is shown to be weak. Those are the times when he sees clearest his nothingness in the face of God’s ‘All in all,’ and so his faith flares up, so those are the times when the power of Christ shines brightest through him and Jesus can bear the greatest fruit. As a result, all these experiences were cause for rejoicing, but not boasting. He would have been horrified at the idea that he could use them to claim any kind of superiority over others, and thus that anybody would credit him with really boasting in this letter.
28 Apart from these, what troubles me daily is the care of all the assemblies.
29 Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is led astray and I don’t burn?
The first “weak” refers to being weak in the faith; the second to Paul’s empathy for their struggles. “Led astray” talks about being enticed to sin or being deceived, so Paul “burns” with grief, indignation, and righteous anger, since being deceived would not simply mean accepting false teaching, but also, and importantly, undermining their trust in Paul himself.
30 If I must boast, I will boast of that which concerns my weakness.
Clearly, to “boast” of his weakness is the same as rejoicing in his weakness, or even confessing to his weakness. Paul’s “weakness” is his realisation of his nothingness before God’s “All in all,” and thus before other people. So his “boasting” is exactly the opposite, amounting to humility.
31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is blessed for ever, knows I don’t lie:
32 in Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded, intending to arrest me,
33 but I was lowered in a wicker basket through a window in the wall, and so I escaped his hands.
Being lowered from the wall in a basket was hardly the victory of the brave or powerful—in normal understanding it would have been a humiliating escape, but Paul is keen to tell the story, even appealing to God as his witness that it’s all true, thereby revealing his intrinsic lack of pride.
2 Corinthians 12
1 It’s really not helpful for me to boast, yet I am coming to visions and revelations of the Lord.
Almost all the translations miss that δή (dḗ) means ‘now, then, verily, in truth, really, surely, or certainly.’ As a result they either use ‘doubtless’ which they put in the wrong place (after KJV) to mean anything much in modern English, or they feel it should be translated ‘must,’ ‘compelled’ or ‘necessary,’ thus adding an unsupported imperative, reversing Paul’s thought: he is just confirming that boasting is not going to help anyone, neither himself nor the Corinthians, and is therefore specifically not imperative. His problem on that score, is that he hasn’t finished covering the entire subject of his tough experiences as Christ’s apostle. He wants it to be complete so that they will be properly informed and therefore equipped to recognise and resist the false apostles.
2 I knew a man in Christ who was caught up to the third heaven more than fourteen years ago—whether in the body or out of it, I don’t know, God does—
This “man in Christ” is clearly Paul himself, as we can see from verse seven.
3 and I know that this man—whether in the body or out of it, I don’t know, God does—
4 was caught up into paradise, and heard words inexpressible, which it is not permitted for a man to speak.
Being “caught up into paradise” may have been a second stage in Paul’s adventure, after being “caught up to the third heaven” which would explain the repetition of the aside.
“Words inexpressible” would appear, initially, to be an oxymoron, but it speaks of the prohibition on Paul regarding their retelling, not the impossibility of speaking them.
5 I will glory of a man like that, but of myself I will not glory, except in my weaknesses,
I have chosen to use “glory” here, in common with many of the older translations, as I felt it was nearer to Paul’s meaning than “boast.”
He says “a man like that” because he has talked about it in the third person without actually disowning the experience.
6 for if I chose to glory, I would not be foolish for I would tell the truth, but I will refrain in case anyone should think more of me than what he observes in me or hears from me.
The core of boasting is in stretching the truth, taking credit for more than one actually did, or what somebody else has achieved, trying to make others think more of you than you deserve, and this will mean being a fool. But Paul knows that even were he to stick scrupulously to the truth, many would impute honour to him which he couldn’t bear to claim, so he stops.
His personal standards of righteousness are entirely in agreement with his teaching, so he is careful to say “observes in me or hears from me,” (unlike many of the translations which put “of me” or even “about me”) as he doesn’t want anyone’s assessment of him to be someone else’s comprehension of his teaching.
7 And, so I won’t be too exalted by the excellence of the revelations, a spike to the flesh has been given to me, a messenger of Satan, striking me that I might not be exalted,
This was a “messenger of Satan,” permitted by God, so it was not a medical condition, but more like a foothold in Paul’s body which the demon could use to give him a sharp pain whenever it chose to. The reason it kept Paul humble is that, despite his amazing revelations and relationship with God, he couldn’t simply pray it away or command it to leave him. Whether the demon would particularly strike him when he received revelations, or when he started to feel smug about them, or simply randomly, we are not told.
8 on account of which, three times I petitioned the Lord to withdraw it from me,
Paul was entirely used to getting answers to prayer so he keeps praying until the answer comes. Presumably, he prayed the first two times and received no answer, so he prayed again in faith, since, as soon as God responded, he asked no more.
9 but he said to me, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” So I will, all the more happily, celebrate my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest on me.
We are to draw on the grace of the Lord to bear our suffering, rather than resisting by defiance or mental training—as ever, this is not a job for the flesh.
Paul was already celebrating his weaknesses, as he had discovered that the key to successful discipleship is humility, as it places us in the right relationship with God, man, and ourselves. Humility, eagerly sought and gratefully received, releases the power of Christ to work in and through us by faith, unlike a humility which is unwanted and resented.
Again, all the other translations wrongly tell us that Paul was “boasting” of his weaknesses: if it wasn’t for the provocation from Corinth, triggered by the Corinthians’ behaviour, he wouldn’t even be talking about his sufferings. But this was the Holy Spirit’s way of getting this teaching into Paul’s letter for the benefit of all future generations of disciples.
10 Therefore I delight in infirmities, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am powerful.
Paul’s “infirmities” were physical; “insults” included both personal insults and false accusations; “necessities” were shortages of basic needs, whether from circumstance or from his personal sense of duty; and “distresses” would have covered extreme afflictions and calamities.
The reason Paul “delights” in all these humbling circumstances is because he values the payoff so highly. His “weak” here refers primarily to his physical situation—his body, whether mistreated or incarcerated—and the regular injustices he faced; but his “powerful” is a spiritual reality where he can use the miraculous power of Christ to do his work as a servant of Christ. His sufferings are “for the sake of Christ,” not his delighting, though many translations reverse these two.
So we see that one of the main reasons we have little success in healing the sick, raising the dead, or preaching the gospel, is that we are not actively and eagerly seeking the humbling which would empower us. Jesus’ life and ministry were defined by His humility, His suffering and His faith, and Paul’s life and ministry by his humility, suffering and faith. Can we really expect to be effective with less?
11 I have become a boasting fool. You made it imperative for me, though you should be standing with me, for in nothing do I fall short of the most eminent apostles, even though I am nothing.
All the translations struggle with this verse; they have Paul directly blaming the Corinthians for his “boasting,” even though, as we have seen, that is definitely not what he is doing, so he isn’t blaming them either. What he means here is that, because he has felt the “imperative” to list his fleshly qualifications, he is coming across as a fool, because it reads like boasting and boasting is the behaviour of a fool. It became “imperative” to do so as the Corinthians were falling for real boasting from false apostles who were also peddling lies. Paul is saying, “if you think their boasting is so great, just compare it to a real apostle and stop being deceived—discipleship is not about the flesh at all, but quite the opposite.”
All the translations miss that the word συνιστάω (synistáō), which they have translated as “commended” or “endorsed” or, in one case “vindicators,” also means “to stand with,” and so they imply that the Corinthians should have been “commending” Paul to others—not his point at all. When he says they “should be standing” with him, he is talking about sticking with his teaching and his lifestyle and not being drawn away to perdition through deception.
Many of the translations state that Paul was claiming to not be inferior to the most eminent apostles, which again, is not what he is saying: if he was, he would have displayed a fleshly pride he didn’t have, and he would hardly have followed it with “I am nothing.” He was not concerned about his personal reputation at all: his point is that his actions, words and lifestyle, being entirely initiated and empowered by the Holy Spirit, were no less effective or powerful than any other (real) apostle, however exalted, so why were they being dragged away by pretenders whose words and actions didn’t measure up?
Many of the newer translations use the term “super apostles” which is a modernism with which I find myself uncomfortable.
Finally Paul reminds them that he is nothing. This is anything but a casual aside: he is confessing that before God he is nothing as he has been shown that God is truly “All in all,” so, as a rational man, he sees that he himself truly is nothing. This is the baseline of Paul’s humility before God and man; why his relationship with Jesus is the deep and intense thing it is; why the Holy Spirit can consistently use him in power; how he can and does live a sin-free life. This is a revelation we all need to aspire to and seek for ourselves. Some translations put “even if I am nothing.” In adding a possible alternative they are implying that Paul is actually claiming to be something despite their contrary assessment of him, but he is the ultimate realist so we can see that again, that is exactly opposite to his real point.
12 Indeed, the tokens of an apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and works of power.
“Signs and wonders and works of power,” as the “tokens of an apostle” differ from the signs which “will follow those who believe.” They will ‘cast out demons—speak with new tongues—take up serpents—if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them—they will lay hands on the sick who will recover (Mark 16:17-18). All these Paul did on a daily basis as a true believer, but in addition he performed the “signs of an apostle:” primarily tokens of the power of God working so powerfully in him, which required tremendous faith and perseverance, though we are told nothing regarding their actual details.
13 In what way were you made inferior to the other assemblies, except that I wasn’t a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
“Made inferior” refers to being served less well than the other assemblies. Probably, Paul treated them differently in this way, ie, not expecting their support, because they were a new fellowship, so the older (and more mature) ones would have been keen to support the outreach. Paul is suggesting that their pride might be offended because he was bringing them God’s eternal life, and all the teaching to go with it, without charge.
14 Now, for the third time I am ready to visit you, and I won’t be a burden, as I’m not seeking your support but you, for the children ought not to save up for the parents, but the parents for the children,
Paul’s concern is to win, and keep, the souls of the Corinthians for the Lord and for eternity, protecting them from the lies of the enemy’s agents, the false apostles.
15 but I will delight to spend, both my resources and myself, for your hearts, even if loving you more means I am loved less:
He is utterly committed to them and is prepared to bankrupt himself, financially and emotionally, in his determination to serve them in the Lord, even if his love is spurned.
All the other translations either word the last phrase as a question, ie, “if I love you more, will you love me less?” or they put something like, “the more I love you, the less I am loved.” But he is just telling them how much he loves them, not challenging them, and certainly not complaining about his treatment.
All the translations read ψυχή (psychḗ) as “souls” or “lives” or they ignore it completely. While “souls” is the most common rendering of this word, and it also means “lives,” “hearts” is just as valid (see Ephesians 6:6 and Colossians 3:23), and better fits Paul’s comments on love.
16 so be it. Yet I didn’t burden you, but being skillful I caught you with the bait.
Paul set the bait by presenting the gospel to the Corinthians free of any charge; they took the bait and came to faith.
All the translations get hung up on Paul being “crafty” or “sneaky” etc and catching the Corinthians by “trickery,” “deceit” or “guile.” A moment’s reflection will show anyone who has come to understand Paul, that neither is even slightly reasonable as both would be a sinful expression of the flesh in all its corruption: this is not how he lives or thinks any more.
When we look up πανοῦργος (panoûrgos) the word they translate as “crafty” etc we find that the first meaning given is “skillful,” “clever” “fit to undertake and accomplish anything,” “dexterous,” “wise,” “sagacious.” After these we find the ‘bad sense’ meanings: “crafty,” “cunning,” “knavish,” “treacherous,” “deceitful.” Clearly one of the former will be correct, so I have chosen “skillful.”
Again, looking up δόλος (dólos) which they translate “guile” or “trickery” “deceit” we find, in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon: “to catch with a bait,” thus “a lure,” “snare,” and hence, “craft,” “deceit,” “guile.” So I have again chosen the first as it is an expression of skill which doesn’t include the idea of sin.
17 Did I take advantage of you through anyone I’ve sent to you?
Clearly not: saving somebody from sin and from themselves, and giving them eternal life and a vital relationship with Christ is anything but taking advantage.
18 I urged Titus to go, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you in anything? Don’t we walk in the same spirit; taking the same steps?
Titus is Paul’s representative to the Corinthians and Paul trusts him absolutely: to speak as he would; to act as he would; to live and breathe as he would.
19 Again, you think we’re defending ourselves to you, but everything we say in Christ, in the sight of God, is for your sake, beloved, to edify you.
Paul is not defending himself: he cares not what anybody thinks of him in himself, his concern is that they are edified, not deceived, so he wants them to simply know the truth so they can live by it. It’s all built on his love for them.
20 For I fear that when I come I may find you as I would not want, and that I may be found by you as you would not want; that there might be quarrels, rivalry, indignations, self-promotion, evil-speaking, secret slandering, pride, disorder,
Paul’s fear is that they will still be practising sin, and that they in turn will find him strict and ready to eject those who will not repent. The quarrels and so on would be already underway between rival Corinthians, possibly against Paul but not with him since he would not join them in their sins.
21 and in case, when I come again, my God will humble me regarding you, and I will grieve over many who sinned before and have not repented of the impurity, immorality and licentiousness they committed.
Paul suddenly switches his reference to God to “my God” because those who refuse to repent are rejecting God and so cannot call Him their God, but He is still Paul’s God.
Most of the translations put “humble me before you,” or “among you,” or even “humiliate me before you.” But Paul is not worried about them seeing him humbled, as we have seen he actively seeks and gratefully receives his humbling from the Lord; here he is concerned that they won’t see the light and repent. The reason he will grieve is that they have been lost; vanquished by the enemy, the roaring lion who seeks to devour the unwary.
2 Corinthians 13
1 This is my third visit to you: “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter will be established.”
Paul is using his visits to the Corinthians as witnesses to establish and confirm his charge against them.
2 I already warned you during my second visit, and now, being absent, I write to warn again those who sinned before and all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare them,
Clearly Paul cannot “spare” them as the mere fact that they would still be sinning by his next visit would demonstrate their rebelliousness and stubborn defiance of his advice, both in person and by letter.
3 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking through me, not in weakness but powerfully among you,
If anyone was doubting Paul and his ministry, they were ultimately doubting Jesus who directed and inspired him at all times. This is what is bothering Paul, not that he was doubted but that they were easy meat for the enemy once they were doubting Jesus.
4 for though he was crucified in weakness, now he is alive by the power of God. For we too are weak in him, but we will be alive in him with the power of God for you.
He is saying that the power they will note in him, both in the letter and when he next visits, will be the power of God, in their interests. Most translations struggle with the second sentence, ending up with something that really doesn’t make sense.
5 Examine yourselves and see that you are in the faith—test yourselves. Don’t you perceive in yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you are reprobate?
Most of the translations word this so it seems as if Paul told them to test themselves because he doubts their position in Christ, without even indicating what the test is; but Paul is not doubting the reality of their faith, he is pointing out to them that they already have the truth, as they can easily verify by examining their own hearts; and that they got there based on Paul’s preaching, so there is no benefit in looking around to others for anything else.
Then it occurs to him that a few might not actually find Christ within, thus discovering their lost state.
These translations then compound their misunderstanding by softening the last word so it merely talks about “failing the test,” but the word here (and in many of the older versions) translated “reprobate,” means ‘morally depraved, unprincipled, rejected by God, beyond hope of salvation.’ So this is much more definite than just getting a “D” and failing a test. It means being a false brother, one who is deliberately deceiving the saints. Anyone who would fail the test is not qualified to judge, of course, and would refuse to take the test anyway, as they wouldn’t want to be revealed.
6 And I trust you will see that we are not reprobates.
Assessment of Paul’s life and teaching will quickly reveal, to an honest heart, that he is indeed a true believer and apostle, so they can confidently trust his teachings and his example.
7 Yet I am praying to God that you do nothing wicked; not so that we seem approved, but that you may do good, even though we may seem reprobates.
Again, Paul’s concern is not for himself and his reputation, but for their unblemished relationship with Christ and thus their eternal security.
8 For we can do nothing to oppose the truth, but for the sake of the truth,
They cannot do or say anything which will cloud the truth in anyone’s understanding; everything they do must promote the interests of the truth, so the issue of their reputation is really of no importance at all.
9 and we rejoice when we are weak so you may be strong, and we pray too for your perfecting.
Many of the translations refuse to put “perfecting” (or perfection, perfected) here and in verse 11, presumably because they believe that we cannot be perfect this side of heaven. As a result they put “complete,” “mature,” “qualified(!),” or even “restored(!)” But Jesus himself told us to “be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect” in the ‘sermon on the mount’ Matthew 5:48, thus even denying us the option of designing a ‘lesser perfection’ which we might attain to in the flesh. The reason Jesus and Paul both use “perfect” in this context, is because they are deliberately setting the bar so much higher than our flesh could possibly attain to, that we will realise that only by the enabling of the Holy Spirit could we hope to achieve it: the flesh is useless, but with the power of the indwelling Christ it becomes a reasonable standard to attain to—His.
10 Therefore I’m writing these things while absent, so that when present I won’t need to be severe, since the authority which the Lord has given me is for edification, not demolition.
Most translations agree that Paul’s authority is for building them up (edification), not for tearing them down (demolition), but then have him suggesting he might have to abuse that authority by being severe or harsh with them.
The point is that Paul has no intention of abusing his authority, so he’s writing this letter to coax them into behaving as true disciples so there won’t be any need to. If he really thought he would have to, and that he might get away with it, he’d never have explained the restrictions on his authority. Paul’s apostolic authority is given in love, by the Lord of love, to build them up, out of His love for the brethren, so He truly doesn’t want Paul to “be severe” or “harsh,” just firm. Rebellion and disobedience in the life of a disciple are self defeating, so there is no need for harshness, just regular discipline within the assembly in order to protect the rest.
11 Finally brethren, be joyful, be perfected, be encouraged, be at one, be at peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
This verse has thrown up many varied translations but most of the older ones basically agree with this.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
13 All the saints send you greetings.
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.