The Epistle of Second Corinthians
Lesson Number 33
TRANSLATION LEGEND: AMPLIFIED or AMP = Amplified Bible, (1965), ASV=American Standard Version (1901), BBE=Bible in Basic English (1949), DRA=Douay-Rheims (1899), ESV=English Stand Version (2001), IE = International English, ISV = International Standard Version (1967), JPS = Jewish Publication Society (1917), KJV=King James Version (1611), LIVING = Living Bible (1971), MONTGOMERY = Montgomery’s New Testament (2001), MRD = Peshitta-James Murdock Translation (1852), NAB=New American Bible (2002), NASB=New American Standard Bible (1977), NAU=New American Standard Bible (1995), NIB=New International Bible, NIV=New International Version (1984), NJB=New Jerusalem Bible (1985), NKJV=New King James Version (1979), NLT=New Living Translation (1996), NRSV=New Revised Standard Version (1989), PHILLIPS = J B Phillips New Testament (1962), PNT = BISHOP’S New Testament (1595), RSV=Revised Standard Version (1952), TNK=JPS Tanakj (1985), Webster=The Webster Bible (1833),WEYMOUTH=Weymouth’s New Testament (1903), WILLIAMS = William’s New Testament (1937), TNK = JPS Tanakh (1985), TYNDALE= Tyndale’s Bible (1526), WYCLIFFE= Wycliffe New Testament (1382), YLT=Young’s Literal Translation (1862).
LEXICON LEGEND: FRIEBERG=Friberg Lexicon, UBS=UBS Lexicon, LOUW-NIDA=Louw-Nida Lexicon, LIDDELL SCOTT=Liddell Scott Lexicon, THAYER=Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
THE CHURCHES IN MACEDONIA
“ 8:1Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” (2 Cor 8:1-5)
There is a Divine manner made known in this book that is especially worthy of note. Take, for example, the matter of the “fornicator” with which Paul has just dealt. In this Second Epistle, he first alluded to this incident in the second chapter (2:4-11). He again deals with it in the seventh chapter (7:9-15). He once again alludes briefly to the matter in the twelfth chapter where he expressed his former fears of what he might find when he returned to Corinth. “For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: and lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed” (2 Cor 12:21).
Sandwiched between the first and second mentioning of that grievous transgression Paul instructed them and expounded to them the following:
☛ His experience in Macedonia (2:12-13).
☛ The triumph realized in Christ Jesus (2:14).
☛ How the godly are a savor of Christ unto God (2:15-16).
☛ How he did not corrupt the word of God, as did others (2:17).
☛ He expounded the unique nature and effectiveness of the New Covenant (3:1-18).
☛ He elaborated on the nature of his ministry (4:1:5).
☛ He expounded the nature of the new creation, and its objective (4:6-18).
☛ He elaborated on the resurrection of the dead, showing its centrality in the objective of salvation (5:1-5).
☛ He declared the incentives that compel the servants of God (5:6-16).
☛ He affirmed the reality of the new creature (5:17).
☛ He expounded reality and nature of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-21).
☛ He reasoned upon the nature and implications of salvation in Christ Jesus (6:1-13).
☛ Upon the basis of the Divine intention in salvation, he urges separation from the world (6:14-7:1).
While it may appear on the surface as those the above matters had very little to do with the issue of fornication and its correction, this is not at all the case. The Kingdom of God is not a helter-skelter one – impetuous, haphazard, random, and without clear objective. Those who are properly characterized as “laborers together with God” (1 Cor 3:9) are not going from place to place putting out spiritual fires, and dealing with the various problems of the day. Since the church has been flooded with religious professionals, that may appear to be the case. However, such is a total misrepresentation. As important as the correction of moral and spiritual deficiencies are, that is not the key factor in spiritual labors. It is “the truth” that makes “free” (John 8:32) – not truth about problem resolution, but the truth about Divine provision. The church is properly referred to as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) – not truth concerning correct procedure and imagined recovery routines, but the truth of “the record God has given of His Son” (1 John 5:10-11).
Paul sprinkled his words of correction with the doctrine of grace and Divine provision because that is what makes correction possible. Correction has more to do with getting on the right road, than living in a flawless manner. Men “do” wrong – whether in moral areas like fornication, or doctrinal flaw like the resurrection – because they are walking on the wrong road. The “highway” that God has raised up is free from contamination, and no one becomes defiled because they are on that road. The prophet Isaiah wrote of this highway – a road that was not raised up until several centuries after he had completed his ministry. Here is what he said of the road to be traversed by those who are “strangers and pilgrims” in this world. “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there” (Isa 35:8-9).
This is a “way” – a means of getting from one place to another. It is a means of travel – movement – and is not intended to be a place to camp. Notice what is said of this “way.”
☛ It is a “highway” – a thoroughfare, or road occupied by many. It has an appointed beginning and ending – “an highway shall be there, and a way.”
☛ It is a way for holy people – “the way of holiness.”
☛ There is no place for unclean people on this road, and thus they do not travel upon it – “the unclean shall not pass over it.”
☛ It is intended for “wayfaring men,” men who are going, or traveling, where this road is leading – “but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men.”
☛ Those who remain on this road will not go astray, wander, or get lost – “the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”
☛ No ferocious or devouring beast will be found there to hurt – “no lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go thereon, it shall not be found there.”
☛ Those who have been redeemed by Christ will be found there, walking toward a blessed eternal destiny – “the redeemed of the Lord shall walk there.”
Those are the facts in the case. They are not things as they should be, but things as they are. This being the case, how is it that divisions, fornication, inconsideration, confusion, and the abuse of the Lord’s table took place in Corinth? Are such things found on the “highway” raised up by God? Is it possible for such departures to take place where “holy” people are walking? Can they be found where “unclean” are not walking? Can such sin surface in those who are pressing toward the mark? Is it remotely possible that devouring circumstances can occur where there is “no lion” or “ravenous beast?” Or, is it possible that in his grand description of the road to glory, Isaiah was really not speaking the truth?
How often I have heard those who have fallen into deep sin testify how much they loved the Lord, and how they were believing in Him. It is just that they made a mistake, or were in the wrong place at the right time, or were a victim of unfortunate circumstance. Is there anyone who would insult our intelligence, and grieve the Holy Spirit of God by saying the path to glory is attended by such things?
This is not at all the case! Those who fall into sin got off the highway to do so! They stepped into the region where there are lions and ravenous beasts! They entered into the territory where there are “unclean” people, and “wayfaring men” could not be found. The dangers and jeopardies that attend night-time walking, are not found in the day! The perils that lurk on the broad road that leads to destruction are not found on the “highway” that has been raised up for the “wayfaring men.” Those are all found on another road – and it is not one that leads to glory. That is precisely why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).
Paul’s Holy Strategy
I hesitate to refer to Paul’s approach as a “strategy,” else I be considered to have adopted the ways of the world. I am using the word in another sense, and not merely to describe an established routine. Paul was writing to the Corinthians to awaken the nature they received when they were born again. He was speaking in, what might be called, “highway talk” – the kind of speaking one would hear while sojourning on the “way of holiness.” He now speaks to them of what other believers have done – people who were walking on the “highway.” Rather than these people being overcome by difficult circumstances, they themselves became overcomers. Their lives were moved along by a higher purpose – one that is common among all who are traversing the “way of holiness.”
Thus, Paul does not hammer the Corinthians down to the ground with repeated words of rebuke and denunciation. There is no need for that now, for they are in the recovery mode, and are getting back on the “highway” that leads to life. Now they will be better able to appreciate the advancement of kindred spirits, and be emboldened to themselves provide an excellent example to others.
THE INTEGRATION OF TRUTH
The truth of God is fully integrated. By that I mean that everything not only fits together, it works together. Every facet of the truth blends with God’s “eternal purpose,” and assists in clarifying the whole picture. Therefore, when Paul is addressing the matter of their recovery from the toleration of fornication among them, he can also speak freely of the New Covenant, the resurrection body, his own sufferings for Jesus’ sake, and now a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
To the unlearned, this may appear be rather scattered and undisciplined thinking. However, it rather displays the marvelous nature of the Kingdom of God, and of the “truth itself.” All of the things Paul has mentioned have to do with God. They all have to do with His “great salvation.” They all relate to the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore to the truth of God as well. All of them have a bearing upon the eternal destiny of those receiving the instruction. None of the matters with which Paul dealt were isolated from the great realties of the Kingdom of God: “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
This perspective also corroborates that the problems of the brethren, however serious they may be, are not at the heart of Divine dealings. That is, the true subject-matter of preaching and teaching is not man himself, but God’s provision for him, as it is revealed in Jesus Christ and through the Gospel. Every other subject is tangential to that, and must this be viewed and addressed with Christ, the Gospel, and our eternal destiny in mind.
In the recovery from sin, edification, or building up and strengthening in the faith, is essential. That is precisely what Paul is doing – edifying the saints, or feeding “the flock of God” (1 Pet 5:2). He is pouring the strength back into them that sin had removed.
One word on the matter of edification. This involves the understanding, and is by no means accomplished in the arena of emotional feelings or bodily sensations. Edification occurs at the point where men consider and perceive what has been declared. As we reflect upon the words of life, strength is ministered to the “inner man,” thereby facilitating, or making easier, recovery, spiritual resolve, and advancement in the faith. Apart from edification, none of these things can be accomplished. That is why Paul is writing in this way – making the people keenly aware of eternal verities and Divine intent. It is helpful to detect his manner of writing. It has a certain sanctifying influence about it.
THE COLLECTION FOR THE POOR SAINTS
The subject Paul now addresses relates to a collection he was gathering for the poor saints in Jerusalem. This is mentioned several times in his writing to the Corinthians.
☛ 1 Corinthians 16:1-3: An exhortation for the Corinthians to put aside a special portion for this collection on the first day of the week, so special gatherings would not be required when Paul personally arrived in Corinth.
☛ 2 Corinthians 8:1-5: Paul shares the example of the churches in Macedonia who gave liberally to the collection for the Jerusalem brethren.
☛ 2 Corinthians 8:6-9: Paul reminds the Corinthians that he had sent Titus to gather their collection, urging them to prove the sincerity of their love, and to do so remembering how Jesus became poor that we might be made rich in Him.
☛ 2 Corinthians 8:10-14: An additional exhortation to get to the business of taking up the special offering so it could be taken to the saints for whom it was being gathered.
☛ Paul informed the Corinthians that he had made provision for the safe delivery of the funds to the brethren in Jerusalem, sending an especially approved brother to accompany Titus, who himself was well noted for his spirituality and integrity (2 Cor 8:16-24).
☛ 2 Corinthians 9:1-3: Paul reminds the Corinthians that he had boasted about their readiness to participate in this collection, yet they had not yet done what they had said.
☛ 2 Corinthians 9:5-7: Paul reasons with the Corinthian brethren concerning this collection, telling them that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly, and those who sow bountifully will reap bountifully.
☛ 2 Corinthians 9:8-13: The apostle reasons with the Corinthians concerning the blessing of God – how that He can multiply the seed they sow in their offerings for the saints in Jerusalem.
☛ Paul also made reference to this collection to the brethren in Rome, mentioning that the Gentiles ought to contribute to the needs of the poor saints in Jerusalem because they had been “made partakers of their spiritual things” (Rom 15:25-28).
☛ An allusion is also made to this collection in the Epistle to the Galatians, where reference is made to the conference in which the determination to help the saints was made (Gal 2:10).
As you can see, this was a matter of some significance, and it behooves us to be familiar with it. The record of the original initiation of this project is found in the book of Acts.
“And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:27-30).
This severe famine is said to have actually occurred around 44 A.D., and lasting until 48 A.D. It appears as though the aftermath of this famine, coupled with the growing persecution of believers in Jerusalem, caused an extended period of great poverty. This Epistle was written around 56 A.D., approximately eight years after the famine had ended. It is not difficult to believe the area was still in a state of recovery. Thus, the saints in Jerusalem had endured a very long period of hardship – at least twelve years at the time Paul is writing – four during the famine itself, and eight as a consequence of the famine.
As A Matter of Interest
As a matter of additional interest, this was the fourth famine that occurred during the reign of Claudius. The historian Cassius mentions a severe famine in the first and second year of the reign of Claudius, felt mostly by Rome. A second famine occurred about the fourth year of his reign and continued for several years, effecting Judea. Josephus, Jewish historian, writes of this famine. Ant. Lib. XX. Cap. 5, sect. 1 A third famine is mentioned by Eusibius which commenced around 48 A.D., effecting mostly Greece, and being very severe. The fourth is the famine referenced in our text. Historian Tactitus says it was so severe that it was esteemed a Divine judgment. PULPIT COMMENTARY
I mention these things because they confirm why the protracted need arose among the brethren in Jerusalem. The previous famines, and the one following, all depleted resources available to them, producing long-term need. Coupled with persecution, these brethren were going through extremely difficult times.
Paul’s Concern for the Brethren
Coupled with the fact that the Gentiles owed their very salvation to the Jews – for “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22) – you at once see the tenderness of Paul in this matter. He had a heart for the people of God, and could not forget his Jewish brethren. His fellowship with Christ moved him to consider the needs of his brethren above his own – a consistent trait of those walking in newness of life. Real spiritual life produces selflessness.
Although this is not a matter to be pressed beyond the boundaries of godly reason, it ought to be noted that the only specific philanthropy mentioned in the New Covenant Scriptures was directed toward the saints (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37; 6:1-3; 11:29-30; 24:17; Rom 15:25-28; 1 Cor 16:1-3; 2 Cor 8:4; 9:1; Gal 2:10; Heb 6:10; John 3:17).
It is significant that in our time the thrust of, what is called “missions,” has changed to relief ministries, most of which are not directed to the saints. No one of sound mind will oppose such efforts as though they were a transgression. However, when the resources of the people of God are focused upon someone other than the saints, we are confronting a phenomenon for which we have no Scriptural example. In my judgment it is exceedingly difficult to justify such an approach to working for the Lord. There is no example in Scripture of such an emphasis.I am aware that this statement will be rather distasteful to some, but submit it for your consideration.
NOTING THE GRACE THAT WAS BESTOWED
“ 8:1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.”
Having expressed his confidence in the brethren in Corinth – now that they have cleared themselves of a most grievous matter (7:11) – Paul quickly moves to some unfinished Kingdom business. Although their recovery was most notable, evidencing a great working of God among them, it was actually preparatory for their involvement in “the good and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” It is only after we have triumphed over sinful inclinations that we may become involved in any ministry to the brethren of Christ (Rom 12:1-2). The heart and mind must be uncluttered if we are to serve God “acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12:28).
“Moreover . . . ” Other versions read, “Now,” NASB “And now,” NIV “But,” DARBY and “Next.” NJB
Here is a word that indicates the continuation of a thought that was left briefly in order to properly prepare for its acceptance. This preparation can be stated in a number of ways.
☛ Now that immorality has been purged from your presence, and you are a “new lump” (1 Cor 5:7), we can get on the Father’s business.
☛ Now that you have cleared yourselves from any defilement, revenging your disobedience, you are prepared to engage in the work of the Lord.
☛ Now that I have gained confidence in you, I can speak about matters that require your involvement.
☛ Now that godly sorrow has done its work, and you have repented, the Father is again ready to use you.
One of the requirements for serving the Lord is moral and spiritual purity. Of old time this was made clear. “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD” (Isa 52:11). In this very epistle it is said, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor 6:17). Solemnly those who approach the Lord are told, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim 2:8).
Those who hearts, minds, and even bodies, are soiled with moral and spiritual contamination are not acceptable workers in the vineyard of the Lord. An institutional church may allow for such people to participate in the work of the Lord, but God will not – and of that you may be sure.
Now, having been assured that their hands are clean, Paul gets back to the matter of the Father’s business.
WE DO YOU TO WIT
“ . . . brethren, we do you to wit . . . ” Other versions read, “brethren, we make known to you,” NKJV “brethren, we wish to make known to you,” NASB “brothers, we want you to know,” NIV “I want to tell you,” LIVING “brothers, we are going to tell you about,” IE “we desire to let you know, brethren,” WEYMOUTH and “We want to tell you further, brethren.” AMPLIFIED
Now Paul will engage in some holy motivation, provoking the brethren at Corinth to “love and good works,” one of the key results of dwelling together in unity (Heb 10:24). He will point to the godly conduct of other brethren in an effort to stir up the Corinthians to complete their commitment to assist the resourceless saints in Jerusalem.
Some object to this kind of provocation, affirming that it is demeaning – that every believer should stand on their own without any comparison being made between them and others. However, this is not good thinking, and reflects the impact of a psychological emphasis, as compared with a spiritual one.
Good reports of other brethren assist us in reevaluating our own labors. While we are not to emulate one another in the flesh, or allow petty jealousies to rise within us, we can be provoked to throw ourselves more fully into the work of the Lord, be more consistent in our expressions, and be noted for extending ourselves for the work of the Lord. We can help one another in this regard.
Thus Paul begins to share with the Corinthians the remarkable things that occurred among some other brethren – and he does it to provokthem to be more comely in the matter of fulfilling their vows to do good. It was the working of the Lord, to be sure, yet it was accomplished in a people who had given themselves to Him.
THE GRACE BESTOWED
“ . . . of the grace of God bestowed . . . ” Other versions read, “the grace of God which has been given,” NASB “about the grace that God has given,” NIV “about the grace of God that has been granted,” NRSV “about the grace of God which has been shown,” RSV “what God in His kindness has done for,” NLT “what God in His grace has done,” LIVING “the gracious love which God has shown,” IE “of God’s spiritual blessing which was given,” WILLIAMS “about the grace of God which has been manifested,” MONTGOMERY and “about the grace (the favor and spiritual blessing) of God which has been evident.” AMPLIFIED
The “grace of God” is a key consideration in sound doctrine, as well as spiritual perspective. Anything that diminishes the grace of God, or places it in a position that is subordinate to the accomplishments of men cannot possibly be true. The grace of God is the driving force in salvation – throughout the entirety of God’s “great salvation.” Whether it is salvation in its initial working, or in its progress and eventual culmination, salvation is ever “by grace through faith” (Eph 2:8).
This text will show us that the grace of God can be found in the most practical matters of life in Christ Jesus – like taking up a collection for the needs of others. The love and tender mercy of God can be evidenced in such an activity. His favor, gentleness, and preferences can be perceived in the deeds of those in whom His grace is working.
The “grace of God” is a commentary on God, not man! It reveals the love and ability of God, not man! It is, in its essence, a trait of God. If grace is found within men, it has been acquired outside of themselves. They received it, they did not manufacture it.
Thus we read of “the grace of God” being “bestowed,” “given,” NASB “granted,” NRSV or “shown.” RSV Lexically, the word “bestowed” refers to “what is given by a person in superior position to one in a subordinate position.” FRIEBERG As used in this text, other meanings include, “of one’s own accord to give one something, to his advantage, to bestow, give as a gift,” THAYER and “to give, grant . . . give out, produce . . . cause.” USB
The grace of God is not sold, earned, or produced by men. What the grace of God accomplishes cannot be done any other way. Human effort alone cannot do what “the grace of God” enables men to do. The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as an effective work within God’s kingdom that is not accomplished through His grace. His favor is upon it, and that is why it is efficacious. His love and preference are in it, and that is why it accomplishes His will. Men cannot be trained to do what the grace of God enables them to do.
Now we will find that “the grace of God” is intensely personal. It is not like a large hovering cloud that is suspended over the church. It is more like the “tongues of fire” that were revealed on the day of Pentecost that “sat upon each one of them” (Acts 2:3). In this case, particular churches in a particular region had grace bestowed upon them, so that they accomplished something that was greater than what was accomplished in Corinth. That is precisely why Paul brings this matter to their attention.
THE CHURCHES OF MACEDONIA
“ . . . on the churches of Macedonia.” Other versions read, “the Macedonian churches,” NIV “in the assemblies of Macedonia,” BBE and “congregations of Macedonia.” TNT
Macedonia was a region. Some of the details of Paul’s travels into Macedonia are found in Acts 16:10-17:15. This was the area into which Paul and Silas were particularly called, by means of a special vision (Acts 16:9-10).
At least three bodies of believers in that area are mentioned in Scripture, and all of them were very commendable
☛ The Bereans. “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
☛ The Thessalonians. “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us . . . For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe . . . But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire . . . Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thess 2:8,13,17-20).
☛ The Philippians. “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity . . . But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity . . . Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity” (Phil 4:10,14-16).
There were also some women who became prominent in the churches in Macedonia. When Paul and Silas first arrived in that area, they spoke to a group of women who were gathered together for prayer. From that number, Lydia became the first convert from the region. “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:13-14).
There were also two women in Philippi who had labored with Paul in the Gospel. Paul delivered a special word them, admonishing them to be the same mind. “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil 4:2,3).
On one occasion, Paul spent an extensive period of time going “over those parts,” and giving them “much exhortation” (Acts 20:1-2). This appears to have been a region marked by some very strong believers, even though Paul also encountered much troubled from the enemies of the faith in that area (2 Cor 7:5). Now, their strong faith will be declared by their works – and it will be referenced to provoke the godly to stronger efforts. This provides us some indication concerning the way in which godly works are to be viewed.
IN A GREAT TRIAL OF AFFLICTION
“ 2a How that in a great trial of affliction . . . ”
And when did this gift of grace come to the “churches in Macedonia?” Perhaps it was when they were on the mountain of victory, savoring some great conquest like Joshua leading Israel in triumph over Jericho. Perhaps it will in the lofty realm of victory, like David striking down Goliath, the champion of Israel’s foes. That grace was granted in such glorious hours we cannot deny. Indeed, that is the only way to triumph. However, there is grace for other hours, when we are in the valley. It is a grace that enables us to rise, as it were, from the dead – when it looks as though all is lost, and gaining the upper hand is impossible.
We will see that there is also triumph in the Sea, in the desert, and in the furnace. There is victory in the lion’s den, at the bottom of the seas, and in the tomb. It is true that we do have the heavenly “treasure” of the “knowledge of the glory of God,” in an earthen vessel (2 Cor 4:7). Like the alabaster box of precious ointment had to be broken so its contents could be lavished upon Christ, and its fragrance fill the room (Mk 14:3), so the followers of Jesus are broken so their precious treasure can emit its fragrance to those around them.
HOW THAT “IN”
“How that in . . . ” Other versions read,“Out of,” NIVàÆ during,” NRSV “How that while,” BBE“they are” TNT“Though they have been going through,” LIVING“while passing through,” WEYMOUTH “In spite of,” ISV “For although in,” MONTGOMERY “In the midst of,” AMPLIFIED and “Somehow, in.” PHILLIPS
Paul has already testified how he conducted himself in a great trial (2 Cor 1:8-12). Now, he will relate the conduct of other believers while they were undergoing great stress and testing. He will not speak of their conduct after the trial, but of it during the trial.
The real life of Christ conducts itself admirably and productively within the framework of adversity. What Paul will now declare has to do with what the saints did while they were IN the affliction. This is not what they did before the trouble. It is not what they did following the trouble. It is what they did DURING the trouble – while they were IN it, tasting of its bitter dregs. This reveals the potency of faith.
Israel was judged because of what they did when they were IN the wilderness (1 Cor 10:5). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered because of their faith IN the furnace (Dan 3:23-26). Daniel was delivered because of his faith IN the lion’s den (Dan 6:20-22). Young David surfaced as one who was strong in the faith when he was IN the taunts of the giant (1 Sam 17:23-51). Peter slept IN the prison, while chained to two guards (Acts 12:6). Paul and Silas sang praises while they were IN prison (Acts 16:24-25). Stephen prayed for his persecutors WHILE he was being stoned (Acts 7:60).
Our trials are all managed from heaven, and come with ways of escape, opened by the Lord Himself (1 Cor 10:13). There is the managed beginning of the trial and the managed conclusion of all trial, regardless of its intensity or longevity. But what about DURING the trial? How does a person who is living by faith and walking in the Spirit conduct himself in the midst of great difficulty and opposition? Is it possible for a body of people who wear the name of Jesus to jointly respond to affliction in a God-glorifying manner? Our text holds the answer to that question.
A GREAT TRIAL OF AFFLICTION
“ . . . a great trial of affliction . . . ”ö#å!àåthe more grievously affected people and areas would serve to stimulate the Corinthians.
There is something to be seehere – a kind of principle that lies beneath the surface of kingdom life. Let no person doubt that the bowels of compassion can be awakened by the sight or knowledge of need. It was so with Jesus, and it will be so with those who walk in the light as He is in the light.
However, there is a powerfully constraining influence in the DOING of good – in the actual awareness of God working within a people. Thus Jesus said people would glorify God when they saw the “good works” His children (Matt 5:16). Paul told the Corinthians that their initial “zeal” about this offering had “provoked very many” (2 Cor 9:2). Peter said when our enemies “behold” our “good works,” they may very well “glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12).
Rather than only commanding the Corinthians to get to the business of gathering up this offering, Paul spoke in this manner: “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love” (2 Cor 8:8). Another version reads, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” NIV That is a most remarkable statement, and indicates the power of the“newness of life,” to which he appeals.
As I have already said, some object to this kind of comparison, imagining that it is too inconsiderate and humiliating. This text confirms that is a very flawed way of thinking.
NOT AS WE HOPED
“And this they did, not as we hoped. . . ” Other versions read, “And this, not as we had expected,” NASB“and this, not merely as we expected,” NRSV “And going even further than our hope,” BBE “And this they did, not as we looked for,” GENEVA “it was not something we expected of them,” NJB “Best of all, they went beyond our highest hope,” NLT “Nor [was this gift of theirs merely the contribution] that we expected,” AMPLIFIED and “Nor was their gift, as I must confess I had expected, a mere cash payment.” PHILLIPS
And what was it that Paul “expected,” or “hoped for?” He did expect something – even though the brethren in Macedonia were experiencing “a great trial of affliction.” He doubtless expected the degree of willingness that ordinarily accompanies faith. The amount that they gave, and the manner in which it was given exceeded the expectations of Paul – and those expectations were no doubt very high for ordinary men to comprehend. Here was a man who himself had counted “all things but loss” for the excellency of Christ Jesus (Phil 3:8). You would not expect a man like that to anticipate meager offerings from the saints of God.
The Macedonians did not give a sort of token offering, as though they were depending upon others to take up the slack. Rather, it appears that they gave as though everything depended upon them, doing so heartily and willingly. When Paul considered their offering, he saw them in it. Their hearts and their commitment were reflected in what they gave. That is the case with all gifts of this kind. Meager givers have meager hearts, whatever they may have to say for themselves.
THEY FIRST GAVE THEMSELVES
“ . . . but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us . . . ” Other versions read, “but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us” NKJV “but it began by their offering themselves to the Lord and us,” NJB “for their first action was to dedicate themselves to the Lord, and [after] unto us,” PNT “the first thing they did was to give themselves to the Lord. Then they gave themselves to us,” IE “but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us [as His agents],” AMPLIFIED and “Instead they made a complete dedication of themselves first to the Lord and then to us.” PHILLIPS
First to the Lord
Men are fond of saying, “first things first.” Here is an example of what takes the priority in human responsibilities. “First,” our relationship to the Lord must be settled – settled in our own hearts and minds. Unfortunately, we are living in a time and culture when this requirement has been greatly obscured, to say the very least. “The flesh” is altogether too prominent in contemporary Christianity. It has risen to conspicuousness in every religious area. It is seen in preaching preferences, approaches to resolving moral deficiencies, outward appearance, educational thrusts, and doctrinal emphases. Men are being taught, in the name of Christ, to live for themselves – at least that is the clear implication that is coming across to the people. This very thing is what has given rise to moral failures that have become common within the churches. People are living to please themselves. It is what they personally desire that is driving their lives, not what the Lord wills.
Now, Paul further accounts for the liberality of the Macedonian brethren by siting their commitment to the Lord Himself. Hannah gave her s Samuel to the Lord, lending him to God “for as long as he lived” (1 Sam 1:28). In the same spirit, the Macedonian churches, before they did anything else, “gave themselves to the Lord.” Hezekiah admonished the people, “Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the LORD” (2 Chron 30:8). The Macedonian brethren did precisely that! All believers are admonished, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom 6:13). That is what the churches of reference did. Again, those in Christ are told, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1). The Macedonian brethren fulfilled that word.
It may appear as though the churches in Macedonia excelled above the kingdom standard, extending themselves further than is actually required. However, I do not believe this is an accurate assessment of the situation. Solemnly we are reminded that Jesus “died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:15). There is not a shred of revelation that suggests a person can remain in good standing with the living God, and withhold their persons from Him, choosing to live for themselves. We should remove from ourselves any teaching, or idea, that leads us to any other conclusion. If Jesus “died for all” in order that they might live for Him, it is clear that anyone living for self is on totally unsafe ground.
Here, the idea is that the people gave themselves wholly to the Lord, without holding anything back. They viewed all that they possessed as coming from the Lord, and belonging to Him. They knew that they themselves had been “bought with a price,” and therefore were not their “own.” Therefore, at any and all cost, they were determined to glorify God in the bodies and in their spirits, which belonged to God. As it is written, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
And Unto Us
Because the brethren in Macedonia had “first” given “their own selves to the Lord,” they had no compunctions about making themselves available to God’s servants – those He Himself had sent.
One of the marvelous benefits of the New Covenant is the harmony that is accomplished between the Lord and those who are reconciled to Him. His laws have been written in the hearts and put into their minds, so that there is no longer a fundamental conflict with the Lord (Heb 8:10; 10:16).
A confirmation of this is seen in response of the early church to Divine direction. When moved by the Spirit to provide elemental instructns to new Gentile believers, a letter was sent to them. In it the brethren wrote, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28). Even in old time, when Israel was at its best, they believed the Lord and His servant as well. As it is written, “And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and His servant Moses”(Ex 14:31).
One of the incontrovertible traits of those who are in fellowship with Christ (1 Cor 1:9) is their favorable response to the message and work of those sent by the Lord. Rebellion, anarchy, and rejection are always signs of unbelief. This is why Jesus said, “He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Mat 10:40-42).
In a day marked by a stress on religious organizationalism and appealing careers, godly responses like those in our text appear to be waning at a rapid rate. To say the least, this is a very unhealthy sign. Not much real work of God will take place in such an environ.
BY THE WILL OF GOD
“ 5b . . . by the will of God.” Other versions read, “in keeping with God’s will,” NIV “through the will of God,” ASV “after the purpose of God,” BBE “at the prompting of the will of God,” NIB “for whatever directions God might give them,” NLT “For whatever directions God might give them through us,” LIVING “whatever way the Lord wanted,” IE “in obedience to God’s will,” WEYMOUTH and “to be directed by the will of God.” AMPLIFIED
The idea here is that as the “churches in Macedonia” gave themselves completely to the Lord, they became available for His direction. Their submission made them “directable.” The Amplified Bible captures this sense of the text: “having put themselves at our disposal to be directed by the will of God.” There is a circumference within which people are made suitable for Divine use.
This is the significance of the mandate to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. That presentation is in order that we might come to know the will of the Lord. “I APPEAL to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]” AMPLIFIED (Rom 12:1-2).
The will of God IS “good” – essentially and fundamentally honorable, to be esteemed, and upright in every way. It IS “acceptable” – that is, well pleasing and satisfying, primarily to the Lord, and secondarily to us as we are able to perceive it. The will of God IS “perfect” – that is, it is not lacking anything for its fulfilment. It will be fully realized because it was conceived in righteousness, and is carried out in strict accord with the nature of God, which is in every way right.
The “will of God,” as used in this text, refers to His ordinations and appointments for men. It involves the “good works” that He has “before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
There are at least two ways men are brought to realize actual; involvement in the will of God. First, they must present themselves wholly to the Lord – an offering that is deliberate, willing, and without reservation. Secondly, the knowledge of that will, or how men are to become involved in it, must be made know to them. The second requirement depends on the reality of the first one. In fact, the second necessarily follows the first. No person who fully yields himself to God will come short of knowing the will of the Lord.
Thus Paul accounts for the remarkable liberality of the churches in Macedonia. They yielded themselves first to God, thereby putting themselves, so to speak, within the circumference of Divine employment. They were “prepared unto every good work,” and when the opportunity arose, they zealously entered into the work.
There are certain priorities in the body of Christ. As you might well expect, a total and uncomplicated commitment to the Lord is at thtop. There really is no valid work for or with the Lord apart from this, even though appearance may suggest this is not the case. Without that full devotion, the individual, or congregation, is not even in the pool of people through whom God will work. They are not, so to speak, in the Divine marketplace where laborers for the vineyard are obtained (Matt 20:1-7).
The second priority that is made known in this account is the love of the brethren, and a readiness to uphold them in any and every way required. These are the most important people in all of the world. They are God’s “flock” (1 Pet 5:2), His “heritage” (1 Pet 5:3), the “temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16), and “the household of God” (Eph 2:19). Additionally, they are “the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12), the “bride” of Christ (John 3:29; Rev 21:9), and the “house” over which Jesus is presiding, and for which He is caring (Heb 3:6). These are Christ’s “lambs” and “sheep,” and they are to be fed (John 21:15-17).
There is an approach to the work of the Lord that nearly dominates all religious activity, that places great stress upon academic matters and success in the flesh, with little or no emphasis upon the heart. While great care must be taken not to leave the impression that faith sanctifies ignorance, and commitment has no need for learning, the stress must be properly placed.
In siting the superior and God-glorifying response of the Macedonian churches, Paul has placed the emphasis in keeping with his perception of the kingdom of God – a revealed perception.
☛ They had an “abundance of joy” during “a great trial of affliction.”
☛ Their profound joy joined with their “deep poverty,” ensuring that it would not be an undue hindrance.
☛ They had a mind to do everything they do, to the full extent of their ability.
☛ Enabled by God, they went far beyond their ability, exceeding not only the expectations of a godly man, but defying all rules of human logic.
☛ They earnestly entreated Paul to receive their offering, even though it appeared on the surface to be putting themselves at a severe disadvantage.
☛ All of this was possible because they had first given themselves to the Lord – fully and without reservation.
☛ Because they were in the heart of God’s will, and living unto thLord, they immediately gave themselves to the cause Paul presented to them.
There are significant causes that are operative in the work of the Lord. None of them, however, have their genesis with men. None ofhem flow out from the natural man – the part that is traceable back to Adam. Every legitimate and effective spiritual cause has its origin in the Lord. That is why He is called “the Alpha,” “the Beginning,” “the First,” and “the Author” (Rev 1:8,11,17; Heb 12:2). All “powers” – personalities of influence – were “made by Him, and for Him” (Col 1:16). It is imperative that these things be kept in mind when assessing effective responses in men.