Now, we are up to chapter 5 of this second epistle to the Corinthians, and the theme of temporal loss, followed by the comfort God gives through His grace in Christ, as patterned by the elders for the sake of each member of the covenant community to emulate that pattern by the same grace, continues immediately.
The first four verses of this chapter reach all the way back to the apostle’s words in chapter one:
2 Cor. 5:1-4: For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3ff.) Again, we see the thrust of the apostle in sharing his and his companions’ trials with the Corinthian believers, a further unfolding of the reason for these sufferings and the comfort that accompanies them in the lavishly bestowed grace of God our Lord Jesus Christ has earned for us; a grace that is bestowed so abundantly because it is of the eternal and infinite riches of God in Christ (Eph. 1:7-8). This is the grace that not only saved us, but is conforming us – even giving us the desire to be conformed – into that image of our Lord, and this transformation is proven not only by the shared sufferings of the shepherds of God’s churches, but among the saints, as they apprehend the meaning of the apostle’s words.
In v. 5, Paul gets back to the crux of the comfort that not only allows us to go through the trials and sufferings, but grants us the sufferings so that we may experience the grace of God in Christ Jesus. It is through that grace Jesus procured for His saints though His life, death and ascension to glory that such provision is made, and it was first displayed in His life, sufferings and glory, to be provisionally given to the church, both modeled and displayed in the first disciples (apostles and their companions) who planted the first churches through preaching, teaching and example, subsequently, in further displays of the same to those who teach and preach and display this active and endless supply of grace, which comes from our Lord on the throne of grace to the least saints in need of that grace, as they have need, at the time of that need (Ephesians 4:8-16; 1:22-23; 2:19-22; cf. Hebrews 4:14-16).
In vv. 6-7, Paul gives the logical connection for (the reason, or rationale) that settled state of mind that results in good courage by referring back to God, whose grace in Christ Jesus has prepared (them) for this very thing, that thing being the undergoing of such trials and sufferings for the sake of knowing the sovereign God has willed such opportunities to trust in His provision in Christ Jesus, which preparation, with its attendant understanding, is not a result of the mutable circumstances of such trails or sufferings in and of themselves, but the certain perception of knowledge which comes about by faith, through the work of the Holy Spirit, giving to the eyes of belief that confident, experiential comprehension which is true of such gracious provisions of God. The sure knowledge and trust in God is brought about through that abundant and timely provision of grace in Christ Jesus being brought to believers by the Holy Spirit, given to believers as an assurance (guarantee) that these things are so. Note, this settled state of assurance is not the result of either the circumstances or the state of mind they undergo, for we have shown that despair, above, that thinks death is at the door, yet in the midst of such mutability of emotions and circumstances, the strong assurance of God’s sovereign purpose in these circumstances is known to the believer, who can therefore say, with Job, though He slay me, I will hope in Him (Job 13:15a). All these things are brought about by the implanted word of God operating in the believer’s regenerate nature via His Spirit (John 6:63; James 1:21).
The preference of the apostle and his companions is, in adverse and pleasant situations, to be out of that body of yet corrupt flesh, in a world that is yet under the curse, and rather to be present with the Lord, which is the believer’s goal both now, and at the eschaton (v. 8); this is that grace given, confident knowledge and trust that causes us to be seeking to please the Lord while yet undergoing various trials and afflictions in our present body (v. 9), knowing even believers will answer to God for what they have done while in these present bodies, not regarding salvation, but regarding use of the gifts they have been given (see The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:15ff., noting that this is speaking to use of the grace of God in Jesus Christ given to believers, except for the last servant, which is a warning to false professors – a similar understanding can be inferred by way of application from our current text, although not a similar exposition). The fear of the Lord should be an ever-present reality with all believers, not as facing certain judgment for their sins, for such judgment has been borne by our Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of His children, but of awe and reverence to the God who has condescended to claim them as His own through His Son’s suffering and mediatorial work, as well as certain knowledge that those things we do that are not pleasing to Him will certainly bring discipline in this life, and be shown to be worthless before our Lord’s judgment seat (vv. 10-11a).
The boasting is not for personal commendation, therefore, but an appeal to God’s sure knowledge of what the apostle and his companions are, in their work for the church by His grace, and so the example they set forth is for those they are writing and ministering that grace of God towards, to be able to see them as an example of God’s sovereign grace enabling them to not only pass through such difficulties, but for those who are witness to these facts (whether by word or letter) to have that same confident ability under like circumstances.
To put it as simply as possible, it can be said that because these ministers of God’s grace to the church have undergone such things and come through with a confidence, growth and desire to continue serving God in such a manner, so, too, are all believers, regardless of their circumstances or stations, able to persevere in like manner, for it is the same God who is over all. This is a negation of those who wish to boast in outward appearance in opposition to what is according to love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5; cf. v. 12 of our present text). A pretense of piousness can imitate that godliness which comes from truly trusting in God, but will be seen for what it is, ultimately, because such false holiness is for the purpose of being seen by men, rather than commended of God by means of the gift of faith He has graciously given to those who are His (Matthew 6:1-8).
The ministry of these first elders, in planting and feeding the church of Christ in its various local assemblies, was at times seen as being a sign or indication of mental instability (1 Cor. 2:14; cf. Acts 26:24), for the way of salvation God has provided to His children goes against every effort, thought, and desire of self-serving, man-made religion (“religion” here being used in its broadest sense, since man, being created in God’s image, always places worship, of a type, in something; if not the God of Scripture,
even – and especially, in many forms – in himself). It is only apprehended by that grace in Christ Jesus’ work, given by the Holy Spirit to those He raises from spiritual death, and can only be grasped by such a new nature imparted which is simultaneously indwelt by the mind of Christ (the Holy Spirit) to give the understanding of the things of God (things of the Spirit – 1 Corinthians 2:11-16). In direct opposition to the false religious worship placed in other things by those who have not received this new life in Christ, those who have received the Spirit of God see the true rationality of these truths He has given us, and both these are comprehended in v.13 (that is, the view of the unbeliever and the view of the believer alike). However, regardless of the perspective of the one hearing these truths, they remain objective and true of the reality of being saved by grace through faith, according to God’s sovereign gift of salvation, and the purpose of the exercising of the gifts of the elders remain for the service to and growth in holiness, knowledge of God, and ability to persevere in all circumstances. Such is imparted not only in doctrine, but by example, as we have shown in the above brief commentary of this epistle to the Corinthian church. It is in a character matching the doctrine that is taught that we see the true service of the undershepherds of God’s church on both the local and global levels; this was true for the first ministers of the gospel, such as the apostles and their companions, and remains true today, to which the record of Scripture testifies (Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 1 Corinthians 4:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-3). Such examples show the love of Christ being the controlling factor, knowing the extreme depth of such love which our Lord demonstrated in paying for the sins of, and vouchsafing peace and life eternal for his children in such sacrifice as the cross (vv. 14-15; cf. Ephesians 3:14-19 – notice again the priority of prayer in the Eph. reference, as joined with both the doctrine taught and the example of the life of the teacher).
Our next post for this series will be the conclusion.
SDG – Bill
Thanks to Richard Barcellos for a sermon preached on this text (Hebrews 4:14-16) on 3/2/2014 at Trinity Reformed Baptist Church of La Mirada, CA; my meditations in this section were helped greatly by this sermon.