The Book of 2 Corinthians - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Ye also helping together on our behalf by your supplication.
2 Corinthians 1:11
This is pre-eminently the comfort chapter of the New Testament. Writing to his children in Corinth and Achaia, Paul was recalling a dark experience through which he had passed in Asia, when he had in affliction come so near to death, that he had actually died but for the deliverance of God. In all that time of suffering he had known the comfort of God, and now knew that through such experiences of trial and of comfort, he had been prepared to comfort others. The deliverance of the past filled him with confidence about whatever the future might bring. He was confident that He would still deliver him. It is at this point that the words we have selected flash out upon us. Notice the surprising connection: "He will also still deliver us; ye also helping together ... by your supplication." Our prayers for our loved ones help God to work deliverance for them. That is a deep mystery, but it is a fact of which we do well to take heed. There are things which God can do only when we pray. It was surely that conviction in the olden days which made Samuel say as he retired from his judgeship to make way for Saul, "Far be it from me that I should sin against Jehovah in ceasing to pray for you." Observe carefully that he did not say that by ceasing to pray he would sin against them, but that he would sin against Jehovah. When we cease to pray, we limit God, and wrong our friends. We may not understand this, but we ought to act upon it. By our supplication, we are helping together in the deliverances God works for our loved ones.
Lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow.
2 Corinthians 2:7
It is generally agreed that here Paul was referring to the man whom he had charged the Corinthian church in his former letter to exclude from its fellowship, in order that his spirit might be saved. It would seem that they had acted in accordance with his directions, and that the punishment had produced in him a true sense of his sin, and genuine sorrow for the same. In such an hour as this, that man was open to a new and strange device of Satan, that of the suggestion that for such as he there could be no mercy. Therefore the duty of the church was clear. They were to forgive him, and comfort him. If discipline is largely lacking in the Church of today, so also is the grace of forgiving and comforting those who, having done wrong, are truly repentant. How often, alas! souls have been indeed swallowed up with overmuch sorrow because of the harshness and suspicion of Christian people toward them in view of some wrong which they have done. It is true that there should be no toleration of evil out of a false charity; but it is equally true that there should be ungrudgingness and delight in forgiveness. Love never slights holiness; but holiness never slays love. Notice, more-over, Paul charged them not to forgive only, but also to comfort. There may be a judicial forgiveness which is hard, and leaves the soul always conscious of the past. Comfort takes the soul to the heart and forgets. That is how God forgives, and so should we who are His children.
This ... veil ... is done away in Christ. - 2 Corinthians 3:14
This is a superlative statement of the perfection and permanence of the glory of Christ. The illustration is taken from the story of how Moses veiled his face when speaking to the people, after he descended from the Mount. The reason for that veiling was not that they should not see the shining of his face, but that they should not see that it was passing away. They saw the shining and it was so glorious that they were filled with fear, and Moses did not put the veil on until he "had done speaking with them" (Exodus 34:33). Paul distinctly says that the veil was worn by Moses, "that the children of Israel should not look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away." They looked on the glory, and then it was veiled, and the sense of the glory remained. Had they seen it pass, that sense would have been lost. This interprets these words: "This ... veil ... is done away in Christ." It is done away because His glory has no waning; it does not pass away. The ministration of Moses, that is, of the law, is that of condemnation. The ministration of Christ, that is, of grace, is that of righteousness. The former has a glory, and it is sublime, but there is no hope in it for sinning men; and so it passes, for it leaves them sinners. The latter has a glory, more sublime, for there is hope in it for sinning men; and so it never passes, for it makes them righteous. Because of the finality of the glory of Christ, He lifts an unveiled face upon men.
Our light affliction ... worketh for us.
2 Corinthians 4:17
The first impression made upon the mind as these words are read is that almost of amazement that Paul could speak of his afflictions as light. He had described them very clearly, as he spoke of himself and of those associated with him in ministry, as "pressed," "perplexed," "pursued," "smitten down," "always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus," "always delivered unto death." And these were no mere figures of speech. Very literally these things were true. And yet, summing them all up, he described them as "our light affliction." Moreover, he thought of them all, not as foes but as allies of the soul, for he declared that in their totality as affliction, it "worketh for us." This was the conviction which made him speak of it as light. That to which it tended was glory so wonderful that he could only describe it as "an eternal weight of glory." Still further let it be noted that this reference to glory was not merely to the glory of the life beyond. It was a present experience, and a growing one, for, said he, affliction "worketh for us more and more exceedingly." In the process of affliction glory was present, and it grew. That is the real burden of all this teaching. Over against every description of affliction is one of glory, "not straitened," "not unto despair," "not forsaken," "not destroyed," "the life of Jesus ... manifested in our body," "the life of Jesus ... manifested in our mortal flesh." These are things of glory, and all the affliction which accompanies service works these things. Thus it ever is. Fellowship with the suffering Saviour is fellowship in the glory of His triumphs.
As though God were intreating by us; we beseech.
2 Corinthians 5:20
What urgency breathes through these words! The subject is that of the reconciliation made possible between man and God, because "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." That word of reconciliation is committed to those called to serve Christ. They are ambassadors on behalf of Christ. Therefore the urgency. They must deliver their message in a way worthy of the One Who sends them: "As though God were intreating by us; we beseech." That was Paul's conception of the way to preach Christ; and it is manifest in all the records we have of his journeyings, his spoken messages, as well as in his letters. The marvel and the glory of the Divine provision, and the terror and peril of human need, were such as to make anything in the nature of indifference to results or coolness in presentation impossible. Every call was a beseeching. Moreover he dared to say that in this attitude he was representing God; and every soul who knows anything of the real meaning of the Cross, knows that this is a true word. God does not treat human salvation as a matter about which He can be indifferent or careless. The Cross is His passion, His earnestness; may we not dare to say, that by which He entreats men to be reconciled. In face of that, what can be worse than to declare His message as though it were not a message vital, tremendous, demanding all passion and power in its delivery? All this makes us think! And perhaps the thinking is better done alone!
In everything commending ourselves, as ministers of God.
2 Corinthians 6:4
In these words the participle "commending" has close connection with the participle "working" in the first verse of the chapter. "Working together with God ... in everything commending ourselves as ministers of God." Here we have the secret of power, and the burden of responsibility in all Christian service. Whatever we are called upon to be, or do, or suffer, we find the necessary resources in our fellowship with God. Our responsibility is that we commend ourselves (first to God, and also to those among whom we serve) as ministers of God. Some of the things included in this "everything" follow in the Apostle's letter. First, things of trial; patience, afflictions, necessities, distresses; stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labours, watchings, fastings. Then things of grace; pureness, knowledge, longsuffering, kindness, the Holy Spirit, love unfeigned, the word of truth, the power of God. Then things of conflict; the armour of righteousness, glory and dishonour, evil report and good report. Then things of experience, the double experience of the servants of God, that of what the world thinks of them, and that of their secret life with God; deceivers, yet true; unknown, yet well known; dying, and living; chastened, not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making rich; having nothing, yet possessing all things. In all these things, working with God - that is comfort and strength. In all these things, commending ourselves as ministers of God - that is purpose and responsibility.
I overflow with joy in all our affliction.
2 Corinthians 7:4
What a wonderful and glorious word this is! Observe the circumstances, and the experience. The former were those of affliction. Already in this letter we have seen much of the sufferings of this man. Immediately following this declaration he referred to other phases of them; the flesh with no relief; fightings without, fears within. Surely there was nothing in circumstances to cause joy. Yet notice the experience. It was not that of stoical indifference. It was more than that of calm resignation. It was even more than that of quiet content. "I overflow with joy." It is the language of a happy, and even exultant heart. What was the reason of such joy amid such circumstances? It was that of the manifestations of true Christian character in the children of God. Titus had visited him and told him the effect produced in the Corinthian Christians by the letter which he had sent to them. That letter had been one of rebuke, a letter calculated to produce sorrow and repentance, and all the things of a true Christian experience had been manifested in them. This was the reason of his over-flowing joy. And it is ever so. John, writing to Gaius the beloved, said: "Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." This is the present reward of all who, "working with God" ... commend themselves as His servants. No circumstances of personal affliction can dim the gladness of seeing souls grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus.
We take thought for things honourable ... in the sight of men.
2 Corinthians 8:21
This is a principle which should ever be observed in all the business and financial matters of the Christian Church. The subject was that of the collecting of funds. Titus was appointed to this work, but he was not to go alone. Paul, in conjunction with the churches interested, appointed another to go with him; and the reason was that all the monetary matters of the churches should be dealt with in such a way as to give no ground of suspicion to men of the world. Christian men will act in all these matters in the sight of their Lord, and that to other Christians is sufficient guarantee of their integrity and uprightness. But men of the world do not understand that. They look for the guarantees of the oversight of man by man. They are not prepared to accept the view that a man who trusts in God is to be trusted. Therefore it is the business of the Christian community to do its business in such a way that these men of the world shall have no cause to suspect anything contrary to righteousness in its affairs. This is at once a tribute to the supremacy of righteousness, and an acknowledgment of the fact that men are able to appreciate that which is righteous. Titus and the one appointed to act with him needed no watching in order to make them straight-forward; but the fact that they were so, needed to be vindicated to all men. Therefore they were to travel and to act together. This is very practical, and very important. It is the warrant for the careful auditing of all Church accounts.
Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.
2 Corinthians 9:15
Thus Paul ended all he had been writing about giving. It was an exclamation, revealing the inspiration of all he had been saying, and of all these people had been doing, and were now being urged to continue to do. They had given, they were urged to continue to give, in order to meet the need of their fellow-believers who were suffering. Why should they do so? What motive would be sufficiently strong to inspire them to do so? The answer is found in this exclamation. They were children of God, and they were such because He had given His only-begotten Son. It was indeed "His unspeakable gift." It is safe to say that about nothing in human history has so much been spoken as about this gift of God. One moment's thought of all the literature of the Christian Church will prove that this is so. Yet it remains an unspeakable gift; a gift about which, however much may be said, the final thing can never be said. The things spoken concerning it are only of value as they ultimately lead the soul to the speechlessness of adoring awe and wonder, in which it comes nearer to apprehension of the ultimate meaning and value of the gift than in any other way. This gift then is the inspiration and type of true Christian giving. Whenever we are called upon to give, let us first think of the unspeakable gift of God. Then love will be the inspiration of our giving, sacrifice will be its measure, and real blessing to others its result.
Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
2 Corinthians 10:18
In this chapter we find Paul dealing with subjects which were very immediate. There were those in the Corinthian Church who were discounting his authority, or rather attempting to do so, by declaring that he could write a letter, but that personally he carried no weight. To this charge he replied quite definitely that his letters exactly expressed himself. Then he dealt with the principles upon which men should test themselves, and they may thus be stated. First, the opinion of others concerning a man is no true standard of what a man really is. Again, a man cannot discover the truth about himself by comparing himself with others. Finally, and this is in the words of our verse, a man's commendation of himself is of no value. It is only when the Lord's judgment is sought, and is found to commend, that a man may be sure he is approved. This holds us right up to the highest law of life, as it carries all the other ideas to a true conclusion. I may claim freedom from bondage to the opinion of others, but that is of no value unless I submit to the judgment of the Lord. The measure in which I cease judging myself by comparing myself with others, is the measure in which I need to seek to know the Lord's thought of me. Not what does my neighbour think of me; not how do I compare with others; not what do I think of myself; but what does the Lord think of me, is the thing that matters.
Anxiety for all the churches.
2 Corinthians 11:28
That was the central anxiety, burden, care, of this great Apostle. As we have seen more than once in reading this letter, he knew much of affliction. There were many causes for anxiety. In this chapter another paragraph occurs in which he referred to perils and travails connected with the work of the ministry. Then he described them as "those things that are without," or as an alternative marginal reading has it, "the things that come out of course." They were incidental things. That which pressed upon him daily, from which he had no escape, which constituted the central anxiety of all his days, was the need of all the churches. What that meant in the case of Paul is understood as we think of the churches he had planted, and of those to whom his letters were written. They were widely scattered, and very diversified in their experiences, attainments, needs; but he carried them all in his heart, and laboured for them in prayer, and in every way possible. That is true Christian ministry. We make a modern application of the principle by saying that while denominational loyalty may be, and within limits certainly is, an excellent thing, it must never be allowed to exclude other churches from our spiritual anxiety. In matters of ecclesiastical government, and of theological opinion, we may be separated from other communions; but in the deepest fact of the unity of the Spirit, we are one with them. Therefore we must pray for all, and so far as is possible, labour for all.
Unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
2 Corinthians 12:4
This is the second time that we have come across this word "unspeakable" in our reading of this letter; but the words Paul used were not identical. Where he wrote of God's "unspeakable gift" (9:15) he employed a word which meant not expounded in full, and there he was thinking of the infinite wonder of the gift. Here his word meant inexpressible. On the occasion to which he refers, he had heard words which he could not express, some secrets that were not for publication; it was not lawful to utter them, that is, he was not permitted to do so. The idea which this statement of the Apostle conveys to the mind is that in the life of service and fellowship, God may communicate to the soul, in hours of high experience, secrets which will affect all life and service, and yet which are not to be proclaimed in ministry. The value of such revelations is that of the effect which they produce in the life and character of those to whom they are granted. This is a subject which may be very profitably considered. There are some who seem eager to talk of visions and revelations which they have had. The question is as to whether such eagerness is not a proof that the visions and revelations are not "of the Lord." When they are granted (and they certainly are granted to the servants of God under certain circumstances), they produce a reverent reticence. They are too solemn, too overwhelming, to be lightly described or discussed, but the effect of them will be apparent in all life and service.
For we also are weak in Him.
2 Corinthians 13:4
This is a startling statement, taken thus away from that which immediately follows it. Finally to isolate these words would be to wrong the teaching of the Apostle, which is intended to emphasize his power, and that of all those called to the ministry of the Word. Nevertheless it is good to get fast hold of the truth they declare. The sense in which we are weak in Christ is revealed in the statement concerning the Lord with which this verse opens: "He was crucified through weakness." It is with that statement that we are to link these words: "we also are weak in Him." All that the Cross meant of weakness to Christ, we share in fellowship with Him. In what sense was He crucified in weakness? In one sense only - He was unable to deliver Himself from the Cross, if He were to be able to deliver men from sin. He Who could have asked for twelve legions of angels to scatter His foes, could not do so if He were to make possible the saving of those very men. Thus, in that sacred love-compelled inability, He was crucified. This then is our weakness. In proportion as we are identified with Him, we are for ever unable to spare ourselves. What comfort this brings in every hour in which our strength is expended, exhausted in His service! We might conserve it by parting company with Him. When we refuse to do so, and are weakened by the way, "we ... are weak in Him." That is ever the condition for the operation of the power of God. It was so in Him. It is so in us.