Elders Represent the Knowlege of Christ in the Church – Part 1

2 Corinthians 5:16-17: From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The above Scripture quotation occurs within a context wherein the apostle Paul is speaking of some of the roles and functions of elders, whether as apostles or teachers (and perhaps deacons), as the usage of the pronouns shows. To prove this, we have, in this second letter to the Corinthians, the use of the plural pronouns in chapter 1, which pronouns refer to Paul and his companions in ministry, set over against the use of those pronouns referring to the recipients of the letter, who are comforted by the aforementioned group (2 Corinthians 1:4:-6: who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer). (Emphasis in bold mine.) This distinction of groups, between the group ministering with Paul and those they minister to, is continued throughout the context of these five chapters of this epistle of the apostle we are considering in our series of articles. This is shown by the relation, in context, of the pronouns, to the respective groups represented (although considering the syntactical relations in the original language would show this to be the case even more, it is evident enough in the translation that such is not considered absolutely necessary – for those who wish to consider such things, there is no doubt whatsoever that such study will not only prove the point we are making, but prove profitable in many ways, and such study is encouraged).

Paul is speaking of, representing, and sharing those sufferings which he and his companions have undergone during their missionary and church planting journeys, which the Corinthians certainly had first-hand knowledge of (cf. Acts 18-19although the sufferings of Paul and his companions at this point of their missionary journeys were light, compared to what they and he suffered elsewhere, the reports of his sufferings elsewhere no doubt preceded his arrival in Corinth – for instance, his stoning at Iconium in Acts 14. Additionally, we have the accounts of that which Paul suffered, but this does not mean we know all of that which he suffered at this time; still, going through the accounts of his missionary journeys in Acts certainly gives us enough material to explain such passages as the first chapter of Corinthians). This type of representation of what Paul and his traveling companions went through was communicated to the Corinthian church beginning in chapter one, and extending to the quotation (and beyond) we began this article with, and it is proper to notice that the apostle reasons that the purpose of their undergoing afflictions and sufferings is, firstly, for the sake of Christ, and secondly, to comfort those he is writing too; lastly, it is imperative to notice how he is comforting them, which is by the shared Word of the Lord as given to him, so that when they undergo like things, they will have this sure word of the divine grace and providence of God, in Christ, to turn to, receiving the same divine comfort for themselves as that which was given to the apostle and his companions.

As we go through the first chapter, we see the comfort given was during times of extreme duress for Paul and companions. Paul tells the Corinthians that they were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, and the word for despaired in this phrase means “to be in extreme despair, implying both anxiety and fear—‘to be in utter despair, to despair completely.’ ὥστε ἐξαπορηθῆναι ἡμᾶς καὶ τοῦ ζῆν ‘so that we despaired even of living’ or ‘so that we totally despaired of our lives’ 2 Cor 1:8.”[1]

To emphasize the strength of the trials he and his companions were going through, he bluntly tells the Corinthians that “we felt that we had received the sentence of death (1 Corinthians 1:8-9a). This is truly depression (another word for despair to such an extent), where one has despaired even of being able to live; even believing that their death was decreed. In this, we see more than the physical afflictions; we see the mental, or spiritual and emotional afflictions as well.

This is a communication, by the apostle to the Corinthians, that the elders (and deacons) represent the knowledge of Christ in the church, and how they live in accordance with that knowledge shows that the deposit and distribution of it accords with Scripture. Paul is sharing with the Corinthians that knowledge which is essential to be able to undergo trails of varying magnitudes, and immediately, in the following vv, Paul gives the reason that they were subjected to such terrible physical and spiritual hardships: But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again (1 Corinthians 1:9b-10).

Reliance upon God; reliance upon His promises and grace in Christ Jesus, as given to us through His Holy Spirit, is what makes us able to endure all things for the sake of Christ, even deep, life-despairing depression (Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13 – and note the range of temptations Paul has mentioned in the subsequent chapters of this particular context – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). The strength and ability to do all things and undergo all things spoken of in the Philippians passage, the temptations spoken of in the 1 Corinthians 10 passage, the personal trial Paul pleads with the Lord to take away three times (in chapter 12 of this epistle we are considering), but which is left to humble him, are all based on that simple, childlike trust in our Lord Jesus Christ’ sufficient grace; all these things are actually, truly able to be borne by that sufficient grace of our Lord and the ability and power which comes because of God who strengthens (us).

This is what Paul is communicating to the Corinthian church, in the power of the Spirit, by his written words; this is what is communicated to all of us who are Christians today by these same God breathed words, and these words are those which we have to read, meditate upon, and learn the depths of from those who are appointed elders over us.

Quickly, let us go through the next three and two-thirds chapters of this second letter to the Corinthian church (verses referred to and commented upon in the context of each chapter will mainly be referenced by v. or vv.), leading up to our text quoted at the beginning of this article; lightly touching here and there, to emphasize that this is, first and foremost, a letter of instruction and encouragement from one who is not only an apostle, but a teacher of the Word – an elder, just as our own pastors and elders (for the apostolic office encompassed all the other offices within it).

First, however, notice how the first chapter ends:
Paul admonishes the believers at Corinth to help him and his companions by that means of grace Scripture calls prayer (v. 11), he appeals to their knowledge, already communicated to them through God-breathed writings they were acquainted with, as valid in Christ, and therefore to establish themselves in that knowledge that he may boast of them as they boast of him on the day of our Lord’s second advent (vv. 13-14), and that his actions were done in simple sincerity before God and men (unbelievers [“in the world”] and especially the Corinthians – v. 12); he links his and his companions desire to come to them with the certain promises of God, giving assurance of their sincerity and showing the absoluteness of the certainty of God’s promises at the same time (vv. 17-20). The final verse of chapter one gives both the apostolic authority (which is continued in the ministry of elders as to teaching and example of living) of Paul, as well as that of his companions (though theirs is not intended as apostolic, but as regarding the other parts of ministry which adhere to being an elder), and does so in a context of the proper use of one in a church office and ministry (whether they were an apostle in the early church, or are an elder in the church in any age – v. 24; cf, v. 23). Thus, the foundation,  set in the previous, introductory post, is further developed with regard to our context and our opening text, which we will see further developed as we continue rapidly though the next three chapters, which will be continued in our next installment of this series.

SDG – Bill

Elders Represent the Knowledge of Christ in the Church – Part 2

[1] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (313). New York: United Bible Societies.

One thought on “Elders Represent the Knowlege of Christ in the Church – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Elders Represent the Knowledge of Christ in the Church – Introduction | MEANS OF GRACE

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