2 Corinthians 8

Chapters eight and nine contain some of the most well-known passages on giving in the New Testament. When churches hold giving campaigns and pastors preach on tithing, these chapters are likely to come up. “They gave according to their means and beyond their means” (2 Corinthians 8:3). “Make sure you excel in this act of kindness, too” (2 Corinthians 8:7). “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). These and others seem to teach that giving to the church is important, and it is. The problem, however, is that was not Paul’s point when he wrote.

In reality, one of Paul’s missions, while he preached the gospel and planted churches, was to raise support for other struggling believers, especially those in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Romans 15:25-29). Thus, the giving that Paul asked the Corinthians to do was not for their own church; he was encouraging them to give generously for the benefit of others. He noted that the Macedonian churches (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea) continued to give, even sacrificially, during a difficult period (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). When Titus went to Corinth, Paul instructed him to make sure they did the same (2 Corinthians 8:6-9). It was especially important to Paul that they gave toward this mission because they had already promised that they would and had begun putting money aside for it (2 Corinthians 8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3). As he would explain further in chapter nine, Paul was less concerned with the amount they gave as he was that they gave. However, he did want them to consider their better financial situation as an opportunity to serve, since it may not always be that way. One day they might find themselves on the receiving side, subject to someone else’s generosity or lack thereof (2 Corinthians 8:12-15).

Titus and another brother were going back to Corinth again, carrying this letter with them and planning to accept the financial gift from the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:16-19). Paul noted that, especially with the accusations still swirling about him, he would not accept the gift personally, so as to not add fuel for his accusers (2 Corinthians 8:20-24). As if that were not enough, Paul sent yet another brother with them – for a total of three trustworthy men – to accept the money and return with it, so they could distribute it as necessary. Not only was there great wisdom in having multiple men traveling together for protection, but Paul was also right to “recuse” himself from showing up at Corinth for what could be construed just for money.

2 Corinthians 5

Chapter five is a kind of “reverse parallel” of chapter four. In the previous chapter, the first section focused on Paul’s ministry and the second on his perspective on this life. Chapter five reverses this, with the first section continuing his perspective from chapter four (2 Corinthians 5:1-10) and the second section focusing back on his ministry (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Some well-known verses are found here and some key truths that make this a favorite chapter of Scripture for many believers.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 provides us with a great deal of information regarding the afterlife. Paul referred to his temporary physical body as an “earthly house” and a “tent,” noting that there is a “heavenly dwelling” awaiting us so that “we will not be found naked” (apparently a reference to a bodiless soul). God created us to be both physical and spiritual beings, and Paul said that the afterlife will be no different. Our bodies will be different, but they will still be physical bodies. 1

A second major truth in this section deals with the believer’s state of existence between death and the resurrection. Although some people believe in “soul sleep” (where the soul is unconscious), the apostle knew of only two states: “alive here on earth” (or “at home in the body”) and “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). He specifically noted that being on earth means to be “absent from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Thus, when a believer dies, he immediately goes into the presence of Jesus in a conscious state of existence, one of many points of lasting encouragement or comfort from this letter.

Following the resurrection “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Paul had already written about this in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, explaining the trial of our works by fire. Here he confirmed that it will be not the works themselves that Jesus will judge but the quality of our works. The Greek words translated “good or evil” are quality words (rather than moral words) and should be understood as “beneficial or worthless.” Since Paul’s ultimate “ambition” was “to please” Christ because of this judgment (2 Corinthians 5:9), we can interpret this to mean that the motives behind our service for God contribute to their worthiness of reward. Good deeds that come out of a wrong motive are worthless when it comes to rewarding our faithfulness.

The second half of the chapter focuses again on Paul’s ministry based on his perspective of pleasing God during this life. “Because we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Knowing God well results in knowing and living our mission well. In other words, significant ministry is the result of significant maturity. Paul insisted that, regardless of what it might look like to his accusers or the Corinthians themselves, it was the love of Christ that controlled him or compelled him in his work (2 Corinthians 5:14). Knowing what Christ did for us changed the way Paul saw other people, both believers and unbelievers (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

In the final four verses, Paul used some form of the word “reconcile” four times. This message that he preached was not just “Jesus died for you.” Paul knew that one aspect of the good news was a complete change in status from enemies against God to friends with God (Romans 5:6-11). This was part of God’s intent in Jesus’ death – reconciling all things back to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:19-23). Paul insisted that even believers must continually “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20) on a practical level, even after salvation. Jesus became “sin for us,” not just so that we could go to heaven but “so that in him we would become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the daily aspect of salvation – becoming in practice what God has already declared us to be.

Notes:

  1. First Corinthians 15 is clear that all believers will receive a glorified body at the Rapture. However, there is a debate over whether there is a temporary body for those who die before then. Some take this passage to indicate that there is a temporary body while others believe Paul was referring to the final resurrected body. This may be one of the things that we cannot be certain about.

2 Corinthians 3

Chapter three continues Paul’s defense of his apostolic ministry and authority in Corinth. It seems that one of the attacks his accusers used was that he had no credentials. Officially, that was true. However, Paul took the firm stance that, since he was commissioned by Jesus himself (Acts 9:15-16; Galatians 2:6-10), he did not “need letters of recommendation” either to or from the churches he started (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). On the contrary, the churches themselves and the stories of life change through Christ were all the credentials he needed to prove the authority and authenticity of his message. What could be better proof than the Corinthians themselves?

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Additionally, Paul needed nothing for his own benefit either, because God had both called him to that ministry and made him adequate to accomplish it (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

For the rest of the chapter, Paul used the example of Moses receiving the stones tablets with the Ten Commandments as an illustration of the difference between the old spiritual life under the Law and the new spiritual life under the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:7-18). Exodus 34:29-35 records that Moses’ face glowed after having seen God, but he wore a veil in the presence of the people when not relaying God’s message to them. Paul noted that this veil unintentionally became a barrier between them and God, much like the unbiblical clergy-laity divide in the Church. Rather than seeing it as a visible reminder that they could not approach God’s holiness, the people used it to elevate and exalt Moses.

On a spiritual level, the Jewish people still have a veil which they misunderstand, but it is the Law itself, the one that God gave through Moses. Paul was clear in Galatians 3:19-25 that the Law was a temporary guardian over Israel until Jesus came and that it did not have the power to give spiritual life, only point to death. Thus, in a sense, the Law actually kills those who trust in it for salvation (2 Corinthians 3:6), even though the Law itself was holy (Romans 7:7, 12). By clinging to the Law instead of turning to Christ, the Jewish people continue to “veil” their own eyes to the truth of God’s plan for them (2 Corinthians 3:15-16). Only the Spirit of God can produce the freedom they are looking for (2 Corinthians 3:17).