READING THROUGH FIRST CORINTHIANS we are inclined to belittle the believers
at Corinth for their carnal and self-loving ways: but the first epistle does not
contain the whole story, because the second epistle shows that their sin was
later judged, evil put away and the whole church restored and reconciled to
God, 2 Cor. 5. 20; 7. 9-11.
After writing his first letter to them Paul was deeply distressed and
worried as to how the believers would respond; indeed, chapter after
chapter of 2 Corinthians reveal to us something of the greatness of his heart
and of the heavy burdens he was carrying in the service of the Lord. The
’sufferings of Christ’ were so much evidenced in his life that he realized it
was only by ‘bearing in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus’, that the ‘life of
Jesus’ could be reproduced in his, 1. 5, 9; 4.10,11; 5.14,6.9; 13. 3.
Troubled, perplexed, persecuted, distressed, cast down, chastened,
sorrowful, see 4.8,9; 6. 10: everything seemed to have gone wrong. From
the unbelieving world came persecution and physical violence – beatings,
peril, imprisonment, pain, cold and hunger, 4. 8, 9; 11. 23-27. From his loved
converts at Corinth came criticism and mistrust, 1. 17, 18; 10. 10; false
teachers opposed and undermined his ministry and authority, 2. 17; 4.2; 5.
12; 11. 4, 12, 13, 18, 19; 12. 15; the low spiritual state of the whole church gave
him constant worry and concern, 2. 6-10; 12. 20, 21.
Evil, satanic powers harrassed his activities, blinding the unsaved world,
4. ‘1; 10. 4, and deceiving the believers, 2. 11; 11. 3, 14. In addition to all, this
God Himself had permitted a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to afflict him, bringing on
him physical weakness to keep him utterly dependent on God for strength
and power, 12.1-10; 10. 1; 13. 4.
Yet, in spite of all this, there runs through the epistle a note of praise,
triumph, optimism, hope, courage, cheerfulness, victory - ‘God, which
always causes us to triumph in Christ’, 2. 14; ‘we faint not’, 4. 1,16; we are
not distressed, or in despair, or forsaken, 4.8,9; ‘our light affliction, which
is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight
of glory’, 4. 17; ‘though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is
renewed day by day’, 4.16.
‘We have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the
heavens’, 5. 1; the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God to pull
down strong holds, 10. 4. Even of his own trouble he could say, ‘most gladly
therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may
rest upon me… I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches … persecutions
for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong’, 12. 9, 10. ‘I am
exceeding joyful in all our tribulation’, 7. 4.
This note of triumph was doubtless largely due to the good report that
Titus had brought to him regarding the spiritual growth that had taken
place in the Corinthians, 7.6-16, for it brought home to his heart afresh the
realization that, beyond all seeming weakness and worry, sin and suffering,
tears and travail, God was constantly at work accomplishing His own
sovereign will and purposes for the ultimate blessing of His people.
‘All things are of God’, 5. 18. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world
unto himself’, 5. 19; ‘we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the
excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us’, 4. 7; ‘He that hath
wrought us for the self same thing is God’, 5. 5; God, which raised up the
Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus’, 4. 14.
Paul saw himself as a co-worker with God, 6. 1. He sowed the seeds of
the gospel but it was God who gave the increase, 1 Cor. 3. 7. It was God who
permitted physical sufferings in his life and in the lives of His people with
a view to their spiritual welfare, 2 Cor. 12. 9, to make them a blessing to
others, 1. 3-6, and to assure them of eternal glory in the ages to come, 4. 7,
Because of their sin, God’s hand of discipline had been on the saints at
Corinth, but with a view to their restoration and ultimate blessing, 1 Cor. 5.
5; 11. 32. Called by grace out of a corrupt, heathen society, the gospel of
Christ had saved and ‘justified’ them, 1 Cor. 6. 11; the Holy Spirit, sealing
and anointing them, was working in their hearts changing and transforming
their lives into the likeness of Christ, 3. 3, 4, 5-8,18; 4.6,7; they had become
‘living epistles’, a witness to the power of the gospel and the NewTestament
covenant of grace, 3. 3.
None of us today can place himself in the salne category as Paul, but the
responsibility to proclaim and defend the gospel that he preached, to build
and establish churches of living saints who love one another, submit to the
headship of Christ, and offer to God Spirit-controlled worship and praise,
rests fairly and squarely upon the people of God in this present time.
The perils and snares that beset the Corinthian believers are as subtle
and real as ever – jealousy, rivalry and criticism can divide and mar any
church; self-love, carnality and worldliness will bring the gospel into
public shame; disorderly behaviour and fleshly worship in church
gatherings will create confusion and grieve and quench the Holy Spirit.
Behind the scenes satanic powers are more active than ever, opposing and
counterfeiting biblical truth and doctrine.
Against this we have at our disposal the same power and grace that
upheld Paul in all his afflictions: the Word of truth, revealed to him
directly by God, is now plainly recorded in the written Scriptures,and is
our ‘weapon of warfare’ by which we throw down the strongholds of
Satan. The Holy Spirit still speaks directly to the hearts of people and He
will give enlightemnent and understanding to those who obey and teach
His Word faithfully.
But any who comnlit themselves to total obedience to Christ and the
gospel must be prepared to meet many of the trials that Paul endured, and
to realize that the life and power of Christ-alive-from-the-dead can only be
reproduced in the believer to the degree in which His (Christ’s) ‘sufferings'
are also cheerfully borne. The ‘earthen vessel’ may collapse and break but
the glory and power of God within is eternal.
In the meantime ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Ghost, remain with all the people of God’,
2 Cor. 13. 14.