Saturday, September 15

2 Corinthians 5:1-11:
At the beginning of this chapter Paul outlines a theme he will treat in more detail in Romans 8—the longing that the Holy Spirit prompts in the hearts of Christians with respect to the final glorification of their bodies (verse 5). Indeed, he speaks of this longing as a “groaning” (verses 2,4; Romans 8:23). It is death, not the body itself, that will be swallowed up in life. This longing is appropriate, because we are, even as we are weighed down by our mortality, the temples of the Holy Spirit, the guarantee and down payment of our final salvation.

Even our present union with Christ, moreover, does not eliminate the fact that in our mortal condition we are still separated from the Lord (verse 6). This is simply the difference between faith and sight (verse 7; 1 Corinthians 13:12).

This is a bold way to live. Twice Paul uses the verb “dare” (tharreo–verses 6,8), which takes up the “boldness” of the previous chapter. It is a courage given by the Holy Spirit, because few men would willingly part with their bodies to attain a better goal (Philippians 1:21-24). What is more important than either state, however, is to be pleasing to the Lord (verse 9), whether living or dying. This is what will count at the tribunal at which the value of our lives will be assessed (verse 10; Romans 2:16-26).

Meanwhile believers live y the first-fruits of immortality that abide in their mortal flesh—namely, the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling power their bodies will in the end be covered over in glory.

Standing even under the divine judgment, Paul endeavors to convince others of this truth (verse 11).

Sunday, September 16

2 Corinthians 5:12-21:
As in 3:1, Paul again fears lest his comments be understood as a self-promotion, which would be most unseemly (verse 12). He wants the Corinthians to know his heart, nonetheless, and not emulate those who judge by appearances. The Apostle is implicitly admitting here that he has not always “looked good.” Some of his experiences have been ecstatic (verse 13; 12:1-7), a point on which, it would appear, certain opponents have been critical of him. No matter, says Paul, such experiences have been God-ward. When, however, he speaks rationally, it is man-ward. Paul made the same distinction thee previous year (1 Corinthians 14:2,28). It is not clear in the present text whether has Paul has been criticized for his ecstatic experiences or for his apparent lack of them. Either sense will fit the context.

Verse 14 means, “the love of God grabs us” (or “grips” us–synechei). This is the love manifest in his dying for us (Galatians 2:20). “All have died” in the sense that those who are gripped by the love of Christ will no longer live for themselves but for Him who purchased them with His blood (verse 15; Romans 5:10).

What we have in Christ is a new existence, no longer “according to the flesh.” Before his conversion Paul had known Christ “according to the flesh”—that is, not according to faith. All that, however, is now gone. Paul will not know anyone except in the faith of Christ (verse 16). The love of Christ gives the believer a new way of knowing people. Being “in Christ” is a new mode of existence (verse 17; Galatians 6:16). Paul’s vocabulary here seems borrowed from the second part of the Book of Isaiah (for example, 43:18-19; 48:5; 65:17; 66:22), which he will cite presently in 6:2 (Isaiah 49:8).

The Christian ministry is essentially a ministry of reconciliation, in which the reconciliation effected on the Cross is applied and brought to bear on the lives ahd hearts of human beings (verses 18-19; Galatians 1:12-16). Paul makes such an application now (verse 20).

The expression that Christ was made “sin [hamartia] for us” is open to more than one meaning (verse 21). It may mean that Christ, though not a sinner, assumed the condition of a sinner in order to represent all sinners. It may also mean that Christ became a “sin offering” (which is the meaning of hamartia as it appears in the Greek text of Leviticus 4). In either case the meaning is soteriological. By Christ’s becoming “sin,” we become “the righteousness of God.”

Monday, September 17

2 Corinthians 6:1-10:
In the previous chapter Paul had exhorted the Corinthians to be reconciled to God (5:20), right after proclaiming that God in Christ had reconciled them to Himself (5:18). That is to say, there is a sense in which the reconciling work of God for man does not preclude, but rather calls for, man’s own act of begin reconciled to God. Even this latter act, however, is something man can do only under the influence of divine grace. This is indicated by the passive voice of the verb: “Be reconciled.” What God does, then, does not preclude the work of man. On the contrary, it invites and enables the work of man. It is a “cooperation.”

Paul continues this theme of “cooperation” (in Latin) or synergism (in Greek) in the exhortation that commences the present chapter: “In cooperation [synergountes], therefore, we exhort you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (verse 1). The cooperation here appears to be twofold. First, Paul cooperates (literally” works together with”) God, inasmuch as he is God’s ambassador (5:10; 1 Corinthians 3:9); his preaching is authorized an enabled by God. Second, the Corinthians are not to let God’s grace go “for naught” (literally “unto empty”–eis kenon). Not receiving God’s grace in vain is a specification of “be reconciled.” That is to say, what God does for man is not the complete story; man must also do certain things, so that God’s grace will not be “in vain.” In the several verses referring to his own experience, Paul hints at what some of these things may be. They form a pretty tough narrative of what it is may be to “cooperate” with God.

As indicated by the aorist tense of thee verb “to receive,” Paul is not thinking of repeated, continuous conversion; he is summoning the Corinthians, rather, to a decisive act made in the “now” of the divine summons (verse 2). It is this act of decision that renders any day “the day of salvation.”

Paul then turns to a description of the conditions and circumstances of his ministry (verses -10). This section, apologetic in intent somewhat to answer the critics of that ministry, contains the second such description (cf. 4:8-9), and two more will follow (11:23-29; 12:10. Elsewhere, cf. 1 Corinthians 4:10-13; Philippians 4:12; Romans 8:35,38-39). In all such descriptions we see Paul feeding on his inner communion with God in Christ. That is what separates these “autobiographical lists” from the Stoic and Jewish apologetic lists with which they are sometimes compared (cf. 4:10-11).

Tuesday, September 18

2 Corinthians 6:11-18:
The Apostle takes up in this section a very practical matter—marriage. This subject is so unexpected in the context that some scholars speculate that it slipped out of place in the manuscript transmission. This speculation, I believe, is unwarranted. It seems more reasonable to suppose that the harmful effects of “mixed marriages” may lie at the heart of the problems that Paul is having at Corinth. This would explain why the treatment of this subject appears in this apologetic section of the epistle.

In a previous letter to Corinth, a year or so earlier, Paul had been obliged to deal with the problems that arose when a man or woman, after their conversion to Christ, was consequently abandoned by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-17). His directions at that time had concerned only marriages formed prior to someone’s conversion. However, a different sort of problem has since arisen at Corinth. Now there is question of a Christian actually marrying a non-Christian.

Paul perceives a problem already addressed specifically in the Scriptures of God’s People. Although in earlier periods of biblical history relatively little attention had been given to marriage with pagans, especially when a Jewish man married a non-Jewish wife, Israel’s religious leader became more pastorally sensitive to such situations during the Babylonian Captivity (587-538) and the following centuries.

We see this sensitivity at work in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which cover the century and more that followed the Captivity. When, with the rise of Cyrus in 539, the exiled Jews were permitted to return to the Holy Land, it fell mostly to the lot of young, unmarried men to undertake that arduous enterprise. When these returned to restore the fortunes of their ancestors, it was hardly surprising that they began to intermarry with the local heathen population.

Spiritual leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah quickly perceived the danger. Had not such marriages proved to be the spiritual downfall of Israel in times past? Who could fail to see, for example, how King Ahab’s marriage to the Phoenician princess Jezebel had introduced every manner of moral and spiritual decay among God’s People? Indeed,  in the eyes of the Chronicler, ho wrote shortly afterwards, this problem could be traced back to Solomon himself and his numerous pagan wives.

This pastoral perception led to a stern reform in Israel, a the scribal and rabbinical leadership became tougher on this matter. In  the  present text it is clear that Paul  is heir to the tradition of Ezra and Nehemiah on this point. His reasoning in the present text, which requires almost no comment and certainly leaves nothing in doubt on the point, is simply a Christian variation of the thinking of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Nor is it surprising that Paul quotes, on this point, a prophet of the period of the Captivity (verse 16; Ezekiel 37:27), using Israel’s separation from Babylon as his interpretive metaphor (verses 17-18).

In our modern context these biblical standards seem particularly relevant and applicable, and they should be expressed in both the canonical norms and pastoral practice of Christian congregations. To young Christians today it should be made plain, in the home and at the local church, that non-Christians are simply off-limits with respect to dating and marriage. It is no insult to either oxen or horses to observe that they are not suited to be harnessed together.

Wednesday, September 19

2 Corinthians 7:1-12:
The quest for holiness was the reason Paul gave for not being yoked with pagans (6:16-17). The quest of holiness, however, was more general in its nature and applicable to a much greater number o concerns. Holiness, first, is something that grows. It requires cultivation and further cleansing from contaminates. It involves, moreover, both man’s spirit and his body (verse 1).

Paul then turns apologetic, pleading the sincerity of his relations to the Church at Corinth (verses 2-4). In asking that these Corinthians “make room” (choresate) for him, Paul takes up the same metaphor (and verbal root) that he used earlier, when he spoke  of a narrowness of affection (stenochochoreomai–6:12). Even as he defends his behavior, he  is careful not  to blame the Corinthians (verse 3). Perhaps we perceive here a touch of what in recent times came to be known as “pastoral sensitivity.”

Because Paul mentions death before life, using the aorist tense for the first (synapothanein and the present tense (syzein) for the second, it is clear that the life referred to here (verse 4) is the eternal life that follows death. Paul will be with the Corinthians in his death and in the life that ensues. His subtle expression thus means a great deal more than “in life and death.”

Paul turns next to the recent return of Titus, whom he had dispatched ass his apostolic delegate to the Corinthians (verses 5-7).Paul, we remember, impatient at waiting for Titus at Troas, had procured passage over to Macedonia in search  of him (2:12-13). Titus at last arrived in Macedonia from Corinth (verse 6).

Macedonia is a pretty big place. How did the two men find one another in Macedonia? I mean, how would a friend and I simply meet up “in Chicago,” to say nothing of our meeting up “in Illinois”? We should consider here the close and constant connections between the local congregations in Macedonia—at Philippi, at Thessaloniki, at Beroea, and so forth. These active connections are likely what brought the two men together.

Titus brought Paul news of the favorable reception that met his earlier letter, the letter of tears (verses 7-8; 2:1-4), the letter that Titus had carried to Corinth. Now Paul is able to put behind him whatever misgivings he had about the wisdom of sending that letter; it accomplished effectively the purpose for which he sent it (verse 9). The Corinthians have not disappointed him (verse 10).

Thursday, September 20

2 Corinthians 7:13—8:7:
Now that the delicate and critical situation in Corinth has been settled by the mission of Titus (verses 13-16), Paul brings to the attention of the Corinthians the charitable collection of resources currently in process for the impoverished Christians in the Holy Land. The role of Titus in this collection will be crucial, as we see in chapters 8 & 9.

Paul proceeds to tell the Corinthians of the generosity of the churches of Macedonia, partly with the intent, no doubt, of encouraging a like generosity among his readers. Chief in generosity among the Macedonians, it seems, are the Philippians, who had already established the custom of sacrificial giving with respect to Paul (11:8-9; Philippians 4:15-16).

The collection had already begun at Corinth, in fact, during the previous year (8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), and it will continue into the following year (Romans 15:25-27).

Everything about this enterprise is grace, charis (verses 1,6,7,19). It begins with the generosity of God. The Macedonian Christians are poor, after all, and Paul strains his images to express how this poverty abounded in generosity (verse 2). This generosity was spontaneous (verse 2); the Macedonians asked for the opportunity to give (verse 4). Indeed, this giving was the expression of the gift of themselves (verse 5).

Paul is sending Titus back to Corinth as the bearer of the present letter. Hence he mentions now that Titus, on his return to Corinth, will be organizing the collection in that city too (verse 6). This would be the perfecting of the good ministry that Titus had already commenced among the Corinthians.

Friday, September 21

2 Corinthians 8:8-24:
Paul admits that the current admonition, in which much is made of the zeal of the Macedonians, is intended to test the commitment of the Corinthians (verse 8). With respect to self-sacrificial generosity, nonetheless, Paul appeals not only to the example of other Christians but also to that of Christ Himself (verse 9; Philippians 2:6-11).

To facilitate the collection at Corinth, Paul is sending, not only Titus, but two other emissaries to assist him in the work (verses 18-22; 12:17-18). Paul does not name these men, but it is not necessary to do so, because their identity will be know when they arrive with Titus. Moreover, these men are, in part, delegates of the churches participating in the collection (verse 23). Luke provides a list of those who carried the money after the collection, in which list we observe that he mentions the origin of each man: Beroea and Thessaloniki in Macedonia, Derbe in Pisidia, and Asia Minor. It is not unreasonable to suspect that the two anonymous emissaries mentioned by Paul are included in Luke’s list (acts 20:4).

Clearly Paul was much concerned with this collection when he wrote the present epistle. Indeed, the highly artificial character of his style in chapters 8 & 9 seems to suggest uneasiness on his part respecting the reaction of these sometimes-troublesome Corinthians. Paul had only recently quarreled with some of them, and now he finds himself asking them for money! From a pastoral perspective, the situation was a bit delicate. Still, Paul could not neglect this collection, which he had promised to undertake (Galatians 2:10).