3Blessed be God He begins (as has been observed) with this thanksgiving — partly for the purpose of extolling the goodness of God — partly, with the view of animating the Corinthians by his example to the resolute endurance of persecutions; and partly, that he may magnify himself in a strain of pious glorying, in opposition to the malignant slanderings of the false apostles. For such is the depravity of the world, that it treats with derision martyrdoms, which it ought to have held in admiration, and endeavours to find matter of reproach in the splendid trophies of the pious. Blessed be God, says he. On what account? who comforteth us — the relative being used instead of the causal particle. He had endured his tribulations with fortitude and alacrity: this fortitude he ascribes to God, because it was owing to support derived from his consolation that he had not fainted.
He calls him the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and not without good reason, where blessings are treated of; for where Christ is not, there the beneficence of God is not. On the other hand, where Christ intervenes, by whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,(Eph_3:15,) there are all mercies and all consolations of God — nay, more, there is fatherly love, the fountain from which everything else flows.
Blessed be God – Let God have universal and eternal praise:
1. Because he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the gift of his endless love to man, Joh_1:16.
2. Because he is the Father of mercies, ο Πατηρ των οικτιρμων, the source whence all mercy flows, whether it respect the body or the soul, time or eternity; the source of tender mercy; for so the word implies. See on Rom_12:1 (note). And,
3. Because he is the God of all comfort – the Fountain whence all consolation, happiness, and bliss flow to angels and to men.
Blessed be God – This is the commencement properly of the Epistle, and it is the language of a heart that is full of joy, and that bursts forth with gratitude in view of mercy. It may have been excited by the recollection that he had formerly written to them, and that during the interval which had elapsed between the time when the former Epistle was written and when this was penned, he had been called to a most severe trial, and that from that trial he had been mercifully delivered. With a heart full of gratitude and joy for this merciful interposition, he commences this Epistle. It is remarked by Doddridge, that 11 out of the 13 epistles of Paul, begin with exclamations of praise, joy, and thanksgiving. Paul had been afflicted, but he had also been favored with remarkable consolations, and it was not unnatural that he should allow himself to give expression to his joy and praise in view of all the mercies which God had conferred on him. This entire passage is one that is exceedingly valuable, as showing that there may be elevated joy in the midst of deep affliction, and as showing what is the reason why God visits his servants with trials. The phrase “blessed be God,” is equivalent to “praised be God;” or is an expression of thanksgiving. It is the usual formula of praise (compare Eph_1:3); and shows his entire confidence in God, and his joy in him, and his gratitude for his mercies. it is one of innumerable instances which show that it is possible and proper to bless God in view of the trials with which he visits his people, and of the consolations which he causes to abound.
The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – God is mentioned here in the relation of the “Father of the Lord Jesus,” doubtless because it was through the Lord Jesus, and him alone, that He had imparted the consolation which he had experienced, 2Co_1:5. Paul knew no other God than the “Father of the Lord Jesus;” he knew no other source of consolation than the gospel; he knew of no way in which God imparted comfort except through his Son. That is genuine Christian consolation which acknowledges the Lord Jesus as the medium by whom it is imparted; that is proper thanksgiving to God which is offered through the Redeemer; that only is the proper acknowledgment of God which recognizes him as the “Father of the Lord Jesus.”
The Father of mercies – This is a Hebrew mode of expression, where a noun performs the place of an adjective. and the phrase is synonymous nearly with “merciful Father.” The expression has however somewhat more energy and spirit than the simple phrase “merciful Father.” The Hebrews used the word “father” often to denote the author, or source of anything; and the idea in phraseology like this is, that mercy proceeds from God, that he is the source of it, and that it is his nature to impart mercy and compassion, as if he originated it; or was the source and fountain of it – sustaining a relation to all true consolation analogous to that which a father sustains to his offspring. God has the paternity of all true joy. It is one of his special and glorious attributes that he thus produces consolation and mercy.
And the God of all comfort – The source of all consolation. Paul delighted, as all should do, to trace all his comforts to God; and Paul, as all Christians have, had sufficient reason to regard God as the source of true consolation. There is no other real source of happiness but God; and he is able abundantly, and willing to impart consolation to his people.
4.That we may be able to comfort There can be no doubt, that, as he had a little before cleared his afflictions from reproach and unfavorable reports, so now he instructs the Corinthians, that his having come off victorious through heavenly consolation was for their sake and with a view to their advantage, that they may stir themselves up to fellowship in suffering, instead of haughtily despising his conflicts. As, however, the Apostle lived not for himself but for the Church, so he reckoned, that whatever favors God conferred upon him, were not given for his own sake merely, but in order that he might have more in his power for helping others. And, unquestionably, when the Lord confers upon us any favor, he in a manner invites us by his example to be generous to our neighbours. The riches of the Spirit, therefore, are not to be kept by us to ourselves, but every one must communicate to others what he has received. This, it is true, must be considered as being applicable chiefly to ministers of the Word. It is, however, common to all, according to the measure of each. Thus Paul here acknowledges, that he had been sustained by the consolation of God, that he might be able himself to comfort others
Who comforteth us – Who shows himself to be the God of tender mercy, by condescending to notice us, who have never deserved any good at his hand; and also the God of all consolation, by comforting us in all our tribulation – never leaving us a prey to anxiety, carking care, persecution, or temptation; but, by the comforts of his Spirit, bearing us up in, through, and above, all our trials and difficulties.
That we may be able to comfort them – Even spiritual comforts are not given us for our use alone; they, like all the gifts of God, are given that they may be distributed, or become the instruments of help to others. A minister’s trials and comforts are permitted and sent for the benefit of the Church. What a miserable preacher must he be who has all his divinity by study and learning, and nothing by experience! If his soul have not gone through all the travail of regeneration, if his heart have not felt the love of God shed abroad in it by the Holy Ghost, he can neither instruct the ignorant nor comfort the distressed. See 2Co_1:6.
Who comforteth us – Paul here doubtless refers primarily to himself and his fellow apostles as having been filled with comfort in their trials; to the support which the promises of God gave; to the influences of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter; and to the hopes of eternal life through the gospel of the Redeemer.
That we may be able to comfort … – Paul does not say that this was the only design which God had in comforting them that they might be able to impart comfort to others; but he does say that this is an important and main purpose. It is an object which he seeks, that his people in their afflictions should be supported and comforted; and for this purpose he fills the hearts of his ministers with consolation; gives them personal experience of the sustaining power of graco in their trials; and enables them to speak of what they have felt in regard to the consolations of the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
By the comfort … – By the same topics of consolation; by the same sources of joy which have sustained us. They would have experience; and by that experience they would be able to minister consolation to those who were in any manner afflicted. It is only by personal experience that we are able to impart consolation to others. Paul refers here undoubtedly to the consolations which are produced by the evidence of the pardon of sin, and of acceptance with God, and the hope of eternal life. These consolations abounded in him and his fellow apostles richly; and sustained by them he was able also to impart like consolation to others who were in similar circumstances of trial.
5.For as the sufferings of Christ abound— This statement may be explained in two ways — actively and passively. If you take it actively, the meaning will be this: “The more I am tried with various afflictions, so much the more resources have I for comforting others.” I am, however, more inclined to take it in a passive sense, as meaning that God multiplied his consolations according to the measure of his tribulations. David also acknowledges that it had been thus with him: According to the multitude, says he, of my anxieties within me,
thy consolations have delighted my soul. (Psa_94:19.)
In Paul’s words, however, there is a fuller statement of doctrine; for the afflictions of the pious he calls the sufferings of Christ, as he says elsewhere, that he fills up in his body what is wanting in the
sufferings of Christ. (Col_1:24.)
The miseries and vexations, it is true, of the present life are common to good and bad alike, but when they befall the wicked, they are tokens of the curse of God, because they arise from sin, and nothing appears in them except the anger of God and participation with Adam, which cannot but depress the mind. But in the mean time believers are conformed to Christ, and bear about with them in their body his dying, that the life of Christ may one day be manifested in them. (2Co_4:10.)
I speak of the afflictions which they endure for the testimony of Christ, (Rev_1:9,) for although the Lord’s chastisements, with which he chastises their sins, are beneficial to them, they are, nevertheless, not partakers, properly speaking, of Christ’s sufferings, except in those cases in which they suffer on his account, as we find in 1Pe_4:13. Paul’s meaning then is, that God is always present with him in his tribulations, and that his infirmity is sustained by the consolations of Christ, so as to prevent him from being overwhelmed with calamities.
The sufferings of Christ – Suffering endured for the cause of Christ: such as persecutions, hardships, and privations of different kinds.
Our consolation also aboundeth – We stood as well, as firmly, and as easily, in the heaviest trial, as in the lightest; because the consolation was always proportioned to the trial and difficulty. Hence we learn, that he who is upheld in a slight trial need not fear a great one; for if he be faithful, his consolation shall abound, as his sufferings abound. Is it not as easy for a man to lift one hundred pounds’ weight, as it is for an infant to lift a few ounces? The proportion of strength destroys the comparative difficulty.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
sufferings — standing in contrast with “salvation” (2Co_1:6); as “tribulation” (distress of mind), with comfort or “consolation.”
of Christ — Compare Col_1:24. The sufferings endured, whether by Himself, or by His Church, with which He considers Himself identified (Mat_25:40, Mat_25:45; Act_9:4; 1Jo_4:17-21). Christ calls His people’s sufferings His own suffering: (1) because of the sympathy and mystical union between Him and us (Rom_8:17; 1Co_4:10); (2) They are borne for His sake; (3) They tend to His glory (Eph_4:1; 1Pe_4:14, 1Pe_4:16).
abound in us — Greek, “abound unto us.” The order of the Greek following words is more forcible than in English Version, “Even so through Christ aboundeth also our comfort.” The sufferings (plural) are many; but the consolation (though singular) swallows up them all. Comfort preponderates in this Epistle above that in the first Epistle, as now by the effect of the latter most of the Corinthians had been much impressed.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us – As we are called to experience the same sufferings which Christ endured; as we are called to suffer in his cause, and in the promotion of the same object. The sufferings which they endured were in the cause of Christ and his gospel; were endured in endeavoring to advance the same object which Christ sought to promote; and were substantially of the same nature. They arose from opposition, contempt, persecution, trial, and want, and were the same as the Lord Jesus was himself subjected to during the whole of his public life; compare Col_1:24. Thus, Peter says 1Pe_4:13 of Christians that they were “partakers of Christ’s sufferings.”
So our consolation also aboundeth by Christ – By means of Christ, or through Christ, consolation is abundantly imparted to us. Paul regarded the Lord Jesus as the source of consolation, and felt that the comfort which he imparted, or which was imparted through him, was more than sufficient to overbalance all the trials which he endured in this cause. The comforts which he derived from Christ were those, doubtless, which arose from his presence, his supporting grace, from his love shed abroad in the heart; from the success which he gave to his gospel, and from the hope of reward which was held out to him by the Redeemer, as the result of all his sufferings. And it may he observed as an universal truth, that if we suffer in the cause of Christ, if we are persecuted, oppressed, and calumniated on his account, he will take care that cur hearts shall be filled with consolation.
6.Whether we are afflicted.From the circumstance that before the clause our hope of you is steadfast, there is introduced the connecting particle and, Erasmus has conceived the idea, that some word must be understood to correspond with those words — for your consolation and salvation— in this way, whether we are afflicted, IT IS for your consolation. I think it, however, more probable, that the connecting particle and is used here as meaning: Thus also, or in both cases. He had already stated, that he received consolation in order that he might communicate it to others. Now he goes a step farther, and says, that he has a steadfast hope, that they would be partakers of the consolationBesides, some of the most ancient Greek manuscripts introduce immediately after the first clause this statement — and our hope of you is steadfast. This reading removes all ambiguity. For when it is introduced in the middle, we must necessarily refer it to the latter clause, equally as to the former. At the same time, if any one wishes to have a complete sentence in each clause, by supplying some verb, there will be no great harm in this, and there will be no great difference as to the meaning. For if you read it as one continued statement, you must, at the same time, explain the different parts in this manner — that the Apostle is afflicted, and is refreshed with consolation for the advantage of the Corinthians; and that he entertains, therefore, the hope, that they will be at length partakers of the same consolation, with what is in reserve for himself. For my own part, I have adopted the way that I have judged the more suitable.
It is, however, to be observed, that the word afflicted here refers not merely to outward misery, but also to that of the mind, so as to correspond with the opposite term comforted. (παρακαλεῖσθαι) Thus the meaning is, that the person’s mind is pressed down with anxiety from a feeling of misery. What we render consolation, is in the Greek παράκλησις, — a term which signifies also exhortation. If, however, you understand that kind of consolation, by which a person’s mind is lightened of grief, and is raised above it, you will be in possession of Paul’s meaning. For example, Paul himself would well-nigh have fallen down dead under the pressure of so many afflictions, had not God encouraged him, by raising him up by means of his consolation. Thus, too, the Corinthians derive strength and fortitude of mind from his sufferings, while they take comfort from his example. Let us now sum up the whole matter briefly. As he saw that his afflictions were made by some an occasion of holding him in contempt, with the view of calling back the Corinthians from an error of this nature, he shows in the first place that he ought to be in high esteem among them, in consideration of advantage redounding to themselves; and then afterwards he associates them with himself, that they may reckon his afflictions to be in a manner their own. “Whether I suffer afflictions, or experience consolation, it is all for your benefit, and I cherish an assured hope, that you will continue to enjoy this advantage.”
For such were Paul’s afflictions, and his consolations also, that they would have contributed to the edification of the Corinthians, had not the Corinthians of their own accord deprived themselves of the advantage redounding from it. He, accordingly, declares his confidence in the Corinthians to be such, that he entertains the assured hope that it will not be vain, that he has been afflicted, and has received consolation for their advantage. The false apostles made every effort to turn to Paul’s reproach everything that befell him. Had they obtained their wish, the afflictions which he endured for their salvation, had been vain and fruitless; they would have derived no advantage from the consolations with which the Lord refreshed him. To contrivances of this nature he opposes his present confidence. His afflictions tended to promote the comfort of believers, as furnishing them with occasion of confirmation, on their perceiving that he suffered willingly, and endured with fortitude so many hardships for the sake of the gospel. For however we may acknowledge that afflictions ought to be endured by us for the sake of the gospel, we, nevertheless, tremble through a consciousness of our weakness, and think ourselves not prepared for it. In that case, we should call to mind the examples of the saints, which should make us more courageous.
On the other hand, his personal consolation flowed out to the whole Church, inasmuch as they concluded, that God who had sustained and refreshed him in his emergency, would, in like manner, not be wanting to them. Thus their welfare was promoted in both ways, and this is what he introduces as it were by way of parenthesis, when he says — which is made effectual in the endurance,etc. For he wished to add this clause, by way of explanation, that they might not think that they had nothing to do with the afflictions which he alone endured. Erasmus takes the participle γουμένης in an active sense, but a passive signification is more suitable, as Paul designed simply to explain in what respect everything that befell him was for their salvation. He says, accordingly, that he suffers, indeed, alone, but that his sufferings are of use for promoting their salvation— not as though they were expiations or sacrifices for sins, but as edifying them by confirming them. Hence he conjoins consolation and salvation, with the view of pointing out the way in which their salvation was to be accomplished.
And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; our sufferings tend to your consolation and salvation, your souls being upheld and supported by the sight of our boldness, and courage, and confidence in our sufferings: thus, Phi_1:13,14: My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. And his sufferings also were for their salvation, as they encouraged them to suffer also; and, if we suffer with him, we shall reign with him; and our light and momentary afflictions shall work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 2Co_4:17.
Which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and (saith the apostle) our suffering hath had a good effect amongst you, while you, with faith and patience, endure sufferings of the same sort which we endure and suffer.
Or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation; and if we be supported, upheld, and comforted under our sufferings, the advantage of this also redoundeth to you, as you are encouraged to suffer for the gospel and profession of Christ, from seeing how God supporteth us under our sufferings.
And whether we be afflicted – See on 2Co_1:4 (note).
Which is effectual – There is a strange and unusual variation in the MSS. and versions in this passage. Perhaps the whole should be read thus: For if we be afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; and if we be comforted, it is also for your encouragement, which exerted itself by enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer.
This transposition of the middle and last clauses is authorized by the best MSS. and versions. The meaning seems to be this: While ye abide faithful to God, no suffering can be prejudicial to you; on the contrary, it will be advantageous; God having your comfort and salvation continually in view, by all the dispensations of his providence: and while you patiently endure, your salvation is advanced; sufferings and consolations all becoming energetic means of accomplishing the great design, for all things work together for good to them that love God. See the variations in Griesbach.
And whether we be afflicted – If we are afflicted; or, our affliction is for this purpose. This verse is designed to show one of the reasons of the sufferings which the apostles had endured; and it is a happy specimen of Paul’s skill in his epistles. He shows that all his trials were for their welfare and would turn to their benefit. He suffered that they might be comforted; he was afflicted for their advantage. This assurance would tend to conciliate their favor, and strengthen their affection for him, as it would show them that he was disinterested. We are under the deepest obligations of gratitude to one who suffers for us; and there is nothing that will bind us more tenderly to anyone than the fact that he has been subjected to great calamity and trial on our account. This is one of the reasons why the Christian feels so tenderly his obligation to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is for your consolation and salvation – It will be useful for your consolation; or it is endured in order to secure your com fort, and promote your salvation. Paul had suffered in Ephesus, and it is to this that he here particularly refers. He does not mean to say that his sufferings there were particularly for the comfort of the Corinthians; but that they had been endured in the general purpose of promoting the salvation of people, and that they, together with others, would reap the benefit of his trials. He endured them in order to spread the true religion, and they would be benefitted by that, and be sides, he would be the better able by his trials to administer to them the true consolations of the gospel in their sufferings; and his example, and experience, and counsel, would enable them to bear up under their own trials in a proper manner.
Which is effectual … – Margin, “wrought.” The Greek word ἐνεργουμένης energoumenēs denotes here “efficacious, operating to, producing;” and the phrase denotes that their salvation would be effected, worked out, or secured by the patient endurance of such sufferings. Those sufferings were necessary; and a patient endurance of them would tend to promote their salvation. The doctrine that the patient endurance of affliction tends to promote salvation, is every where taught in the Bible; see the notes on Rom_5:3-5.
In the enduring – By your enduring; or by your patience in such sufferings. You are called to endure the same kind of sufferings; and patience in such trials will tend to promote your salvation.
Or whether we be comforted … – One design of our being comforted is, that we may be able to impart consolation to you in the times of similar trial and calamity; see 2Co_1:4. The sentiment of the whole passage is, that their eternal welfare would be promoted by the example of the apostles in their trials, and by the consolations which they would be able to impart as the result of their afflictions.
7.Knowing, that as However there might be some of the Corinthians that were drawn away for the time by the calumnies of the false Apostles, so as to entertain less honorable views of Paul, on seeing him shamefully handled before the world, he, nevertheless, associates them with himself both in fellowship of afflictions, and in hope of consolation. Thus he corrects their perverse and malignant view, without subjecting them to an open rebuke.
And our hope of you is steadfast – We have a firm and unshaken hope in regard to you; we have a confident expectation that you will be saved. We believe that you will be enabled so to bear trial as to show that you are sustained by the Christian hope; and so as to advance your own piety, and confirm your prospect of heaven.
As ye are partakers of the sufferings – It is evident from this, that the Corinthians had been subjected to trials similar to those which the apostle had endured. It is not known to what afflictions they were then subjected; but it is not improbable that they were exposed to some kind of persecution and opposition. Such trials were common in all the early churches; and they served to unite all the friends of the Redeemer in common bonds, and to make them feel that they were one. They had united sorrows; and they had united joys; and they felt they were tending to the same heaven of glory. United sorrows and united consolations tend more than anything else to bind people together. We always have a “brotherly” feeling for one who suffers as we do; or who has the same kind of joy which we have.
8.For I would not have you ignorant He makes mention of the greatness and difficulty of his conflicts, that the glory of victory may thereby the more abundantly appear. Since the time of his sending them the former epistle, he had been exposed to great dangers, and had endured violent assaults. The probability, however, is that he refers here to the history, which Luke relates in Act_19:23, though in that passage he does not so distinctly intimate the extent of the danger. As, however, he states that the whole city was in a tumult, (Act_19:29,) it is easy from this to infer the rest. For we know what is the usual effect of a popular tumult, when it has been once kindled. By this persecution Paul declares he had been oppressed beyond measure, nay more, above strength, that is, so as not to be able to endure the burden. For it is a metaphor taken from persons who give way under the pressure of a heavy load, or from ships that sink from being overladen — not that he had actually fainted, but that he felt that his strength would have failed him, if the Lord had not imparted fresh strength.
So that we were in anxiety even as to life itself— that is, “So that I thought life was gone, or at least I had very little hope of it remaining, as those are wont to feel who are shut up so as to see no way of escape.” Was then so valiant a soldier of Christ, so brave a wrestler, left without strength, so as to look for nothing but death? For he mentions it as the reason of what he had stated — that he despaired of life. I have already observed, that Paul does not measure his strength in connection with help from God, but according to his own personal feeling of his ability. Now there can be no doubt, that all human strength must give way before the fear of death. Farther, it is necessary that even saints themselves should be in danger of an entire failure of strength, that, being put in mind of their own weakness, they may learn, agreeably to what follows, to place their entire dependence on God alone. At the same time I have preferred to explain the word ἐξαπορεῖσθαι, which is made use of by Paul, as denoting a trembling anxiety, rather than render it, as Erasmus has done by the word despair; because he simply means, that he was hemmed in by the greatest difficulties, so that no means of preserving life seemed to remain.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Referring to the imminent risk of life which he ran in Ephesus (Act_19:23-41) when the whole multitude were wrought up to fury by Demetrius, on the plea of Paul and his associates having assailed the religion of Diana of Ephesus. The words (2Co_1:9), “we had the sentence of death in ourselves,” mean, that he looked upon himself as a man condemned to die [Paley]. Alford thinks the danger at Ephesus was comparatively so slight that it cannot be supposed to be the subject of reference here, without exposing the apostle to a charge of cowardice, very unlike his fearless character; hence, he supposes Paul refers to some deadly sickness which he had suffered under (2Co_1:9, 2Co_1:10). But there is little doubt that, had Paul been found by the mob in the excitement, he would have been torn in pieces; and probably, besides what Luke in Acts records, there were other dangers of an equally distressing kind, such as, “lyings in wait of the Jews” (Act_20:19), his ceaseless foes. They, doubtless, had incited the multitude at Ephesus (Act_19:9), and were the chief of the “many adversaries” and “[wild] beasts,” which he had to fight with there (1Co_15:32; 1Co_16:9). His weak state of health at the time combined with all this to make him regard himself as all but dead (2Co_11:29; 2Co_12:10). What makes my supposition probable is, that the very cause of his not having visited Corinth directly as he had intended, and for which he proceeds to apologize (2Co_1:15-23), was, that there might be time to see whether the evils arising there not only from Greek, but from Jewish disturbers of the Church (2Co_11:29), would be checked by his first Epistle; there not being fully so was what entailed on him the need of writing this second Epistle. His not specifying this here expressly is just what we might expect in the outset of this letter; towards the close, when he had won their favorable hearing by a kindly and firm tone, he gives a more distinct reference to Jewish agitators (2Co_11:22).
above strength — that is, ordinary, natural powers of endurance.
despaired — as far as human help or hope from man was concerned. But in respect to help from God we were “not in despair” (2Co_4:8).
For we would not have you ignorant – We wish you to be fully informed; see the notes, 1Co_10:1; 1Co_12:1. The object of Paul here is, to give a full explanation of the nature of his trials, to which he had referred in 2Co_1:4. He presumed that the Corinthians would feel a deep interest in him and in his trials; that they would sympathize with him, and would pray that those sufferings, and that this deliverance might be attended with a blessing 2Co_1:11; and perhaps he wished also to conciliate their kindness toward himself by mentioning more at length the nature of the trials which he had been called to endure on account of the Christian religion, of which they were reaping so material benefits.
Of our trouble which came to us in Asia – The term “Asia” is often used to denote that part of Asia Minor of which Ephesus was the capital; see the note, Act_2:9. There has been considerable diversity of opinion as to the “troubles” to which Paul here refers. Some have supposed that he refers to the persecutions at Lystra Act_14:6, Act_14:19-20, from which he had been recovered as it were by miracle; but as that happened so long before this, it seems improbable that he should here refer to it. There is every mark of freshness and recentness about this event; and Paul evidently referred to some danger from which he had been lately delivered, and which made a deep impression on his mind when he wrote this Epistle. Semler supposes that he refers to the lying in wait of the Jews for him when he was about to go to Macedonia, mentioned in Act_20:3. Most commentators have supposed that be refers to the disturbances which were made at Ephesus by Demetrius and his friends, mentioned in Acts 19, and by reason of which he was compelled to leave the city.
The only objection to this is, that which is mentioned by Whitby and Macknight, that as Paul did not go into the theater there Act_19:31, he incurred no such risk of his life as to justify the strong expressions mentioned in 2Co_1:9-10. They suppose, therefore, that he refers to the danger to which he was exposed in Ephesus on another occasion, when he was compelled to fight there with wild beasts; see 1Co_15:32. But nearly all these opinions may be reconciled, perhaps, by supposing that he refers to the group of calamities to which he had been exposed in Asia, and from which he had just escaped by going to Macedonia – referring perhaps more particularly to the conflict which he had been compelled to have with the wild beasts there. There was the riot excited by Demetrius Acts 19, in which his life had been endangered, and from which he had just escaped; and there had been the conflict with the wild beasts at Ephesus (see the note, 1Co_15:32), which perhaps had occurred but just before; and there were the plots of the Jews against him Act_20:3, from which, also, he had just been delivered. By these trials, his life had been endangered, perhaps, more than once, and he had been called to look death calmly in the face, and to anticipate the probability that he might soon die. Of these trials; of all these trials, he would not have the Corinthians ignorant; but desired that they should be fully apprized of them, that they might sympathize with him, and that through their prayers they might be turned to his benefit.
That we were pressed out of measure – see Acts 19. We were borne down, or weighed down by calamity (εβαρηθεμεν ebarethemen) exceedingly καθ υπερβολης kath’ huperboles, supereminently. The expression denotes excess, eminence, or intensity. It is one of Paul’s common and very strong expressions to denote anything that is intensive or great; see Rom_7:13; Gal_1:13; 2Co_4:17.
Above strength – Beyond our strength. More than in ourselves we were able to bear.
Insomuch that we despaired even of life – Either expecting to be destroyed by the wild beasts with which he had to contend, or to be destroyed by the people. This was one of the instances undoubtedly, to which he refers in 2Co_11:23, where he says he had been “in death oft.” And this was one of the many cases in which Paul was called on to contemplate death as near. It was doubtless one cause of his fidelity, and of his great success in his work, that he was thus called to regard death as near at hand, and that, to use the somewhat unpoetical, but deeply affecting lines of Baxter, expressing a sentiment which guided all his ministry, and which was one source of his eminent success, “He preach’d as though he ne’er would preach again,As a dying man to dying men”.
9.Nay more, we had the sentence of death This is as though we should say — “I had already laid my account with dying, or had regarded it as a thing fixed.” He borrows, however, a similitude from those who are under sentence of death, and look for nothing but the hour when they are to die. At the same time he says, that this sentence had been pronounced by him upon himself, by which he intimates, that it was in his own view that he had been sentenced to death — that he might not seem to have had it from any revelation from God. In this sentence, therefore, there is something more implied than in the feeling of anxiety (ἐξαπορεῖσθαι)that he had made mention of, because in the former case there was despair of life, but in this case there is certain death. We must, however, take notice, chiefly, of what he adds as to the design — that he had been reduced to this extremity, that he might not trust in himself For I do not agree with what Chrysostom says — that the Apostle did not stand in need of such a remedy, but set himself forth to others as a pattern merely in appearance. For he was a man that was subject, in other respects, to like passions as other men — (Jas_5:17 ) — not merely to cold and heat, but also to misdirected confidence, rashness, and the like. I do not say that he was addicted to these vices, but this I say, that he was capable of being tempted to them, and that this was the remedy that God seasonably interposed, that they might not make their way into his mind.
There are, accordingly, two things to be observed here. In the first place — that the fleshly confidence with which we are puffed up, is so obstinate, that it cannot be overthrown in any other way than by our falling into utter despair. For as the flesh is proud, it does not willingly give way, and never ceases to be insolent until it has been constrained; nor are we brought to true submission, until we have been brought down by the mighty hand of God. (1Pe_5:6.) Secondly, it is to be observed, that the saints themselves have some remains of this disease adhering to them, and that for this reason they are often reduced to an extremity, that, stript of all self-confidence, they may learn humility: nay more, that this malady is so deeply rooted in the minds of men, that even the most advanced are not thoroughly purged from it, until God sets death before their eyes. And hence we may infer, how displeasing to God confidence in ourselves must be, when for the purpose of correcting it, it is necessary that we should be condemned to death.
But in God that raiseth the dead As we must first die, in order that, renouncing confidence in ourselves, and conscious of our own weakness, we may claim no honor to ourselves, so even that were not sufficient, if we did not proceed a step farther. Let us begin, therefore, with despairing of ourselves, but with the view of placing our hope in God. Let us be brought low in ourselves, but in order that we may be raised up by his power. Paul, accordingly, having brought to nothing the pride of the flesh, immediately substitutes in its place a confidence that rests upon God.Not in ourselves, says he,but in God
The epithet that follows, Paul has adapted to the connection of the subject, as he does in Rom_4:17, where he speaks of Abraham. For to believe in God, who calleth those things that are not, as though they were, and to hope in God who raiseth the dead, are equivalent to his setting before him as an object of contemplation, the power of God in creating his elect out of nothing, and raising up the dead. Hence Paul says, that death had been set before his eyes, that he might, in consequence of this, recognize the more distinctly the power of God, by which he had been raised up from the dead. The first thing in order, it is true, is this — that, by means of the strength with which God furnishes us, we should acknowledge him as the Author of life; but as in consequence of our dulness the light of life often dazzles our eyes, it is necessary that we should be brought to God by having death presented to our view.
We had the sentence of death in ourselves – The tribulation was so violent and overwhelming, that he had no hope of escaping death.
That we should not trust in ourselves – The tribulation was of such a nature as to take away all expectation of help but from God alone.
But in God which raiseth the dead – This is very like the business at Lystra; and would be sufficient to fix the apostle’s reference to that fact could the time and other circumstances serve.
But we had the sentence of death in ourselves – Margin, “answer.” The word rendered “sentence” (ἀπόκριμα apokrima) means properly an answer, judicial response, or sentence; and is here synonymous with verdict. It means that Paul felt that he was condemned to die; that he felt as if he were under sentence of death and with no hope of acquittal; he was called to contemplate the hour of death as just before him. The words “in ourselves,” mean, against ourselves; or, we expected certainly to die. This seems as if he had been condemned to die, and may either refer to some instance when the popular fury was so great that he felt it was determined he should die; or more probably to a judicial sentence that he should be cast to the wild beasts, with the certain expectation that he would be destroyed, as was always the case with those who were subjected to the execution of such a sentence.
That we should not trust in ourselves – This is an exceedingly beautiful and important sentiment. It teaches that in the time to which Paul refers, he was in so great danger, and had so certain a prospect of death, that he could put no reliance on himself. He felt that he must die; and that human aid was vain. According to every probability he would die; and all that he could do was to cast himself on the protection of that God who had power to save him even then, if he chose, and who, if he did it, would exert power similar to that which is put forth when the dead are raised. The effect, therefore, of the near prospect of death was to lead him to put increased confidence in God. He felt that God only could save him; or that God only could sustain him if he should die. Perhaps also he means to say that the effect of this was to lead him to put increased confidence in God after his deliverance; not to trust in his own plans, or to confide in his own strength; but to feel that all that he had was entirely in the hands of God. This is a common, and a happy effect of the near prospect of death to a Christian; and it is well to contemplate the effect on such a mind as that of Paul in the near prospect of dying, and to see how instinctively then it clings to God. A true Christian in such circumstances will rush to His arms and feel that there he is safe.
But in God which raiseth the dead – Intimating that a rescue in such circumstances would be like raising the dead. It is probable that on this occasion Paul was near dying; that he had given up all hope of life – perhaps, as at Lystra Act_14:19, he was supposed to be dead. He felt, therefore, that he was raised up by the immediate power of God, and regarded it as an exertion of the same power by which the dead are raised. Paul means to intimate that so far as depended on any power of his own, he was dead. He had no power to recover himself, and but for the gracious interposition of God he would have died.
10.Who hath delivered us from so great a death Here he applies to himself personally, what he had stated in a general way, and by way of proclaiming the grace of God, he declares that he had not been disappointed in his expectation, inasmuch as he had been delivered from death, and that too, in no common form. As to his manner of expression, the hyperbole, which he makes use of, is not unusual in the Scriptures, for it frequently occurs, both in the Prophets and in the Psalms, and it is made use of even in common conversation. What Paul acknowledges as to himself personally, let every one now take home as applicable to himself.
In whom we have an assured hope. He promises himself as to the future, also, that beneficence of God, which he had often experienced in the past. Nor is it without good reason; for the Lord, by accomplishing in part what he has promised, bids us hope well as to what remains. Nay more, in proportion to the number of favors that we receive from him, does he by so many pledges, or earnests, as it were, confirm his promises. Now, although Paul had no doubt that God would of his own accord be present with him, yet he exhorts the Corinthians to commend to God in their prayers his safety. For when he assumes it as certain, that he will be aided by them, this declaration has the force of an exhortation, and he means that they would not merely do it as a matter of duty, but also with advantage.
“Your prayers, also,” he says, “will help me.” For God wills not that the duty of mutual intercession, which he enjoins upon us, should be without advantage. This ought to be a stimulus to us, on the one hand, to solicit the intercession of our brethren, when we are weighed down by any necessity, and, on the other, to render similar assistance in return, since we are informed, that it is not only a duty that is well pleasing to God, but also profitable to ourselves. Nor is it owing to distrust that the Apostle implores the friendly aid of his brethren, for, while he felt assured, that his safety would be the object of God’s care, though he were destitute of all human help, yet he knew that it was well pleasing to God, that he should be aided by the prayers of the saints. He had respect, also, to the promises that were given, that assistance of this kind would not be in vain. Hence, in order that he might not overlook any assistance that was appointed to him by God, he desired that the brethren should pray for his preservation.
The sum is this — that we follow the word of God, that is, that we obey his commandments and cleave to his promises. This is not the part of those who have recourse to the assistance of the dead; for not contented with the sources of help appointed by God, they call in to their aid a new one, that has no countenance from any declaration of Scripture. For whatever we find mentioned there as to mutual intercession, has no reference to the dead, but is expressly restricted to the living. Hence Papists act childishly in perverting those passages, so as to give some colour to their superstition.
Who delivered us from so great a death – From a death so terrible, and from a prospect so alarming. It is intimated here by the word which Paul uses, that the death which he apprehended was one of a character especially terrific – probably a death by wild beasts; note, 2Co_1:8. He was near to death; he had no hope of rescue; and the manner of the death which was threatened was especially frightful. Paul regarded rescue from such a death as a kind of resurrection: and felt that he owed his life to God as if he had raised him from the dead. All deliverance from imminent peril, and from dangerous sickness, whether of ourselves or our friends, should be regarded as a kind of resurrection from the dead. God could with infinite ease have taken away our breath, and it is only by his merciful interposition that we live.
And doth deliver – Continues yet to deliver us; or preserve us – intimating perhaps that danger had continued to follow him after the signal deliverance to which he particularly refers, and that he had continued to be in similar peril of his life. Paul was daily exposed to danger; and was constantly preserved by the good providence of God. In what manner he was rescued from the peril to which he was exposed he has no where intimated. It is implied, however, that it was by a remarkable divine interposition; but whether by miracle, or by the ordinary course of providence, he no where intimates. Whatever was the mode, however, Paul regarded God as the source of the deliverance, and felt that his obligations were due to him as his kind Preserver.
In whom we trust that he will yet deliver us – That he will continue to preserve us. We hope; we are accustomed to cherish the expectation that he will continue to defend us in the perils which we shall yet encounter. Paul felt that he was still exposed to danger. Everywhere he was liable to be persecuted (compare note, Act_20:23), and everywhere he felt that his life was in peril. Yet he had been thus far preserved in a most remarkable manner; and he felt assured that God would continue to interpose in his behalf, until his great purpose in regard to him should be fully accomplished, so that at the close of life he could look to God as his Deliverer, and feel that all along his perilous journey he had been his great Protector.
11.That the gift bestowed upon us through means of many persons.As there is some difficulty in Paul’s words, interpreters differ as to the meaning. I shall not spend time in setting aside the interpretations of others, nor indeed is there any need for this, provided only we are satisfied as to the true and proper meaning. He had said, that the prayers of the Corinthians would be an assistance to him. He now adds a second advantage that would accrue from it — a higher manifestation of God’s glory. “For whatever God will confer upon me,” says he, “being as it were obtained through means of many persons, will, also, by many be celebrated with praises:” or in this way — “Many will give thanks to God in my behalf, because, in affording help to me, he has favorably regarded the prayers, not merely of one but of many.” In the first place, while it is our duty to allow no favor from God to pass without rendering praise, it becomes us, nevertheless, more especially when our prayers have been favorably regarded by him, to acknowledge his mercy with thanksgiving, as he commands us to do in Psa_50:15. Nor ought this to be merely where our own personal interest is concerned, but also where the welfare of the Church in general, or that of any one of our brethren is involved. Hence when we mutually pray one for another, and obtain our desire, the glory of God is so much the more set forth, inasmuch as we all acknowledge, with thanksgiving, God’s benefits — both those that are conferred publicly upon the whole Church, and also those that are bestowed privately upon individuals.
In this interpretation there is nothing forced; for as to the circumstance that in the Greek the article being introduced between the two clauses by many persons, and the gift conferred upon me appears to disjoin them, that has no force, as it is frequently found introduced between clauses that are connected with each other. Here, however, it is with propriety introduced in place of an adversative particle; for although it had come forth from many persons, it was nevertheless peculiar to Paul. To take the phrase διὰ πολλῶν (by means of many) in the neuter gender, as some do, is at variance with the connection of the passage.
It may, however, be asked, why he says From many persons, rather than From many men, and what is the meaning of the term person here? I answer, it is as though he had said — With respect to many. For the favor was conferred upon Paul in such a way, that it might be given to many. Hence, as God had respect to many, he says on that account, that many persons were the cause of it. Some Greek manuscripts have ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν — on your account; and although this appears to be at variance with Paul’s design, and the connection of the words, it may, nevertheless, be explained with propriety in this manner: “When God shall have heard you in behalf of my welfare, and that too for your own welfare, thanks will be given by many on your account.”
Ye also helping together by prayer for us: faith ought; not to hinder prayer; nor doth God’s principal efficiency, as to any mercy or deliverance bestowed upon us, give a supersedeas to us, as to the use of any means, whether natural or spiritual, by which the mercy may be obtained. Nor are the prayers of the meanest saints useless for the greatest, or beneath their desires; men and women’s favour with God depends not upon their order, station, and repute in the world.
That for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf: by the gift here he means the deliverance before mentioned; which he calls a gift, to denote, not only God’s principal efficiency in it, but his free bestowing of it: this gift (saith he) is
bestowed by the means of many, because obtained upon the intercession or prayers of many. God doth therefore bestow mercies upon particular persons at the intercession of many others on their behalf, that he may not only have the praises of those persons upon whom he so bestoweth the mercy, but of those who have been so praying. The apostle hereby hinteth to us, that we ought no more to forget to give thanks for others, for whom God hath heard us, than to pray for them when in distress.
Ye also helping together by prayer – Even an apostle felt the prayers of the Church of God necessary for his comfort and support. What innumerable blessings do the prayers of the followers of God draw down on those who are the objects of them!
The gift bestowed – by the means of many persons – The blessings communicated by means of their prayers.
Thanks may be given by many – When they who have prayed hear that their prayers are so particularly answered, then all that have prayed will feel themselves led to praise God for his gracious answers. Thus, the prayers of many obtain the gift; and the thanksgiving of many acknowledge the mercy.
The gift, or χαρισμα, which the apostle mentions, was his deliverance from the dangers and deaths to which he was exposed.
Ye also helping together by prayer for us – Tyndale renders this in connection with the close of the previous verse; “we trust that yet hereafter he will deliver us, by the help of your prayer for us.” The word rendered “helping together,” means cooperating, aiding, assisting; and the idea is, that Paul felt that his trials might be turned to good account, and give occasion for thanksgiving; and that this was to be accomplished by the aid of the prayers of his fellow Christians. He felt that the church was one, and that Christians should sympathize with one another. He evinced deep humility and tender regard for the Corinthians when he called on them to aid him by their prayers. Nothing would be better calculated to excite their tender affection and regard than thus to call on them to sympathize with him in his trials, and to pray that those trials might result in thanksgiving throughout the churches.
That for the gift bestowed upon us – The sentence which occurs here is very perplexing in the original, and the construction is difficult. But the main idea is not difficult to he seen. The “gift” here referred to (το χαρισμα to charisma) means doubtless the favor shown to him in his rescue from so imminent a peril; and he felt that this was owing to the prayers of many persons on his behalf He believed that he had been remembered in the petitions of his friends and fellow Christians, and that his deliverance was owing to their supplications.
By the means of many persons – Probably meaning that the favor referred to had been imparted by means of the prayers of many individuals who had taken a deep interest in his welfare. But it may also imply perhaps that he had been directly assisted, and had been rescued from the impending danger by the interposition of many friends who had come to his relief. The usual interpretation is, however, that it was by the prayers of many in his behalf.
Thanks may be given by many on our behalf – Many may be induced also to render thanks for my deliverance. The idea is, that as he had been delivered from great peril by the prayers of many persons, it was proper also that thanksgiving should be offered by as many in his behalf, or on account of his deliverance. “Mercies that have been obtained by prayer should be acknowledged by praise” – Doddridge. God had mercifully interposed in answer to the prayers of his people; and it was proper that his mercy should be as extensively acknowledged. Paul was desirous that God should not be forgotten: and that those who had sought his deliverance should render praise to God, perhaps intimating here that those who had obtained mercies by prayer are prone to forget their obligation to return thanks to God for his gracious and merciful interposition.
12.For our glorying is this. He assigns a reason why his preservation should be a subject of interest to all — that he had conducted himself among them all in simplicity and sincerity. He deserved, therefore, to be dear to them, and it would have been very unfeeling not to be concerned in reference to such a servant of the Lord, that he might be long preserved for the benefit of the Church. “I have conducted myself before all in such a manner, that it is no wonder if I have the approbation and love of all good men.” He takes occasion from this, however, for the sake of those to whom he was writing, to make a digression for the purpose of declaring his own integrity. As, however, it is not enough to be approved of by man’s judgment, and as Paul himself was harassed by the unjust and malignant judgments of some, or rather by corrupt and blind attachments, he adduces his own conscience as his witness — which is all one as though he had cited God as a witness, or had made what he says matter of appeal to his tribunal.
But how does Paul’s glorying in his integrity comport with that statement, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord?(2Co_10:17.) Besides, who is so upright as to dare to boast in the presence of God? In the first place, Paul does not oppose himself to God, as though he had anything that was his own, or that was from himself. Farther, he does not place the foundation of his salvation in that integrity to which he lays claim, nor does he make confidence in that the ground of his dependence. Lastly, he does not glory in God’s gifts in such a way as not at the same time to render all the glory to him as their sole Author, and ascribe everything to him. These three exceptions lay a foundation for every godly person glorying on good grounds in all God’s benefits; while the wicked, on the other hand, cannot glory even in God, except on false and improper grounds. Let us therefore, first of all, acknowledge ourselves to be indebted to God for everything good that we possess, claiming no merit to ourselves. Secondly, let us hold fast this foundation — that our dependence for salvation be grounded exclusively on the mercy of God. Lastly, let us repose ourselves in the sole author of every blessing. Then in that there will be a pious glorying in every kind of blessing.
That in the simplicity of God.He employs the expression simplicity of God here, in the same way as in Rom_3:23, the glory of God; and in Joh_12:43, the glory of God and of men. Those who love the glory of men, wish to appear something before men, or to stand well in the opinion of men. The glory of God is what a man has in the sight of God. Hence Paul does not reckon it enough to declare that his sincerity was perceived by men, but adds, that he was such in the sight of God. Εἰλικρινείᾳ (which I have rendered purity) is closely connected with simplicity; for it is an open and upright way of acting, such as makes a man’s heart as it were transparent. Both terms stand opposed to craft, deception, and all underhand schemes.
Not in fleshly wisdom. There is here a sort of anticipation; for what might be felt to be wanting in him he readily acknowledges, nay more, he openly proclaims, that he is destitute of, but adds, that he is endowed with what is incomparably more excellent — the grace of God “I acknowledge,” says he, “that I am destitute of fleshly wisdom, but I have been furnished with divine influence, and if any one is not satisfied with that, he is at liberty to depreciate my Apostleship. If, on the other hand, fleshly wisdom is of no value, then I want nothing that is not fitted to secure well-grounded praise.” He gives the name of fleshly wisdom to everything apart from Christ, that procures for us the reputation of wisdom. See the first and second chapters of the former epistle. Hence, by the grace of God, which is contrasted with it, we must understand everything that transcends man’s nature and capacity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which openly manifested the power of God in the weakness of the flesh.
More abundantly towards you Not that he had been less upright elsewhere, but that he had remained longer at Corinth, in order that he might (not to mention other purposes) afford a fuller and clearer proof of his integrity. He has, however, expressed himself intentionally in such a way as to intimate that he did not require evidences that were far-fetched, inasmuch as they were themselves the best witnesses of all that he had said.
For our rejoicing is this – Η καυχησις. Our boasting, exultation, subject of glorying.
The testimony of our conscience – Μαρτυριον της συνειδησεως· That testimony or witness which conscience, under the light and influence of the Spirit of God, renders to the soul of its state, sincerity, safety, etc.
In simplicity – Απλοτητι· from α, denoting unity or together, and πελω, to be; or from α, negative, and πολυς, many; not compounded, having one end in view, having no sinister purpose, no by end to answer. Instead of απλοτητι, many MSS. and versions have αγιοτητι, holiness.
In godly sincerity – Ειλικρινεια Θεου· The sincerity of God: that is, such a sincerity as comes from his work in the soul. Ειλικρινεια, sincerity, and ειλικρινης, sincere, come from ειλη, the splendor, or bright shining of the sun; and here signifies such simplicity of intention, and purity of affection, as can stand the test of the light of God shining upon it, without the discovery being made of a single blemish or flaw.
Not with fleshly wisdom – The cunning and duplicity of man, who is uninfluenced by the Spirit of God, and has his secular interest, ease, profit, pleasure, and worldly honor in view.
But by the grace of God – Which alone can produce the simplicity and godly sincerity before mentioned, and inspire the wisdom that comes from above.
We have had our conversation – Ανεστραφημεν· We have conducted ourselves. The word properly refers to the whole tenor of a man’s life – all that he does says, and intends; and the object or end he has in view, and in reference to which he speaks, acts, and thinks; and is so used by the best Greek writers. The verb αναστρεφω is compounded of ανα, again, and στρεφω, to turn; a continual coming back again to the point from which he set out; a circulation; beginning, continuing, and ending every thing to the glory of God; setting out with Divine views, and still maintaining them; beginning in the Spirit, and ending in the Spirit; acting in reference to God, as the planets do in reference to the sun, deriving all their light, heat, and motion from him; and incessantly and regularly revolving round him. Thus acted Paul; thus acted the primitive Christians; and thus must every Christian act who expects to see God in his glory. The word conversation is not an unapt Latinism for the Greek term, as conversatio comes from con, together, and verto, I turn; and is used by the Latins in precisely the same sense as the other is by the Greeks, signifying the whole of a man’s conduct, the tenor and practice of his life: and conversio astrorum, and conversiones caelestes, is by Cicero used for the course of the stars and heavenly bodies. – De Leg. c. 8: Caelum una conversione atque eadem, ipse circum se torquetur et vertitur. – CIC de Univers., c. 8: “The heaven itself is, with one and the same revolution, whirled about, and revolves round itself.”
In the world – Both among Jews and Gentiles have we always acted as seeing Him who is invisible.
More abundantly to you-ward – That is, We have given the fullest proof of this in our conduct towards you; You have witnessed the holy manner in which we have always acted; and God is witness of the purity of the motives by which we have been actuated; and our conscience tells us that we have lived in uprightness before him.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
For — reason why he may confidently look for their prayers for him.
our rejoicing — Greek, “our glorying.” Not that he glories in the testimony of his conscience, as something to boast of; nay, this testimony is itself the thing in which his glorying consists.
in simplicity — Most of the oldest manuscripts read, “in holiness.” English Version reading is perhaps a gloss from Eph_6:5 [Alford]. Some of the oldest manuscripts and versions, however, support it.
godly sincerity — literally, “sincerity of God”; that is, sincerity as in the presence of God (1Co_5:8). We glory in this in spite of all our adversities. Sincerity in Greek implies the non-admixture of any foreign element. He had no sinister or selfish aims (as some insinuated) in failing to visit them as he had promised: such aims belonged to his adversaries, not to him (2Co_2:17). “Fleshly wisdom” suggests tortuous and insincere courses; but the “grace of God,” which influenced him by God’s gifts (Rom_12:3; Rom_15:15), suggests holy straightforwardness and sincere faithfulness to promises (2Co_1:17-20), even as God is faithful to His promises. The prudence which subserves selfish interests, or employs unchristian means, or relies on human means more than on the Divine Spirit, is “fleshly wisdom.”
in the world — even in relation to the world at large, which is full of disingenuousness.
more abundantly to you-ward — (2Co_2:4). His greater love to them would lead him to manifest, especially to them, proofs of his sincerity, which his less close connection with the world did not admit of his exhibiting towards it.
For our rejoicing is this – The source or cause of our rejoicing. “I have a just cause of rejoicing, and it is, that I have endeavored to live a life of simplicity and godly sincerity, and have not been actuated by the principles of worldly wisdom.” The connection here is not very obvious, and it is not quite easy to trace it. Most expositors, as Doddridge, Locke, Macknight, Bloomfield, etc., suppose that he mentions the purity of his life as a reason why he had a right to expect their prayers, as he had requested in 2Co_1:11. They would not doubt, it is supposed, that his life had been characterized by great simplicity and sincerity, and would feel, therefore, a deep interest in his welfare, and be disposed to render thanks that be had been preserved in the day of peril. But the whole context and the scope of the passage is rather to be taken into view. Paul had been exposed to death.
He had no hope of life. Then the ground of his rejoicing, and of his confidence, was that he had lived a holy life. He had not been actuated by “fleshly wisdom,” but he had been animated and guided by “the grace of God.” His aim had been simple, his purpose holy, and he had the testimony of his conscience that his motives had been right, and he had, therefore, no concern about the result. A good conscience, a holy life through Jesus Christ, will enable a man always to look calmly on death. What has a Christian to fear in death? Paul had kept a good conscience toward all; but he says that he had special and unique joy that he had done it toward the Corinthians. This he says, because many there had accused him of fickleness, and of disregard for their interests. He declares, therefore, that even in the prospect of death he had a consciousness of rectitude toward them, and proceeds to show 2Co_1:13-23 that the charge against him was not well founded. I regard this passage, therefore, as designed to express the fact that Paul, in view of sudden death, had a consciousness of a life of piety, and was comforted with the reflection that he had not been actuated by the “fleshly wisdom” of the world.
The testimony of our conscience – An approving conscience. It does not condemn me on the subject. Though others might accuse him, though his name might be calumniated, yet he had comfort in the approval which his own conscience gave to his course. Paul’s conscience was enlightened, and its decisions were correct. Whatever others might charge him with he knew what had been the aim and purpose of his life; and the consciousness of upright aims, and of such plans as the “grace of God” would prompt to, sustained him. An approving conscience is of inestimable value when we are calumniated; and when we draw near to death.
That in simplicity – (εν απλοτητι en haploteti.) Tyndale renders this forcibly “without doubleness.” The word means sincerity, candor, probity, plain-heartedness, Christian simplicity, frankness, integrity; see 2Co_11:3. It stands opposed to double-dealings and purposes; to deceitful appearances, and crafty plans; to mere policy, and craftiness in accomplishing an object. A man under the influence of this, is straightforward, candid, open, frank; and he expects to accomplish his purpose by integrity and fair-dealing, and not by stratagem and cunning. Policy, craft, artful plans, and deep-laid schemes of deceit belong to the world; simplicity of aim and purpose are the true characteristics of a real Christian.
And godly sincerity – Greek “sincerity of God.” This may be a Hebrew idiom, by which the superlative degree is indicated, when, in order to express the highest degree, they added the name of God, as in the phrases “mountains of God,” signifying the highest mountains, or “cedars of God,” denoting lofty cedars. Or it may mean such sincerity as God manifests and approves such as he, by his grace, would produce in the heart; such as the religion of the gospel is suited to produce. The word used here, ειλικρινει
α heilikrineia, and rendered sincerity, denotes. properly, clearness, such as is judged of or discerned in sunshine (from ειλη heile and κρινω krino), and thence pureness, integrity. It is most probable that the phrase here denotes that sincerity which God produces and approves; and the sentiment is, that pure religion, the religion of God, produces entire sincerity in the heart. Its purposes and aims are open and manifest, as if seen in the sunshine. The plans of the world are obscure, deceitful, and dark, as if in the night.
Not with fleshly wisdom – Not with the wisdom which is manifested by the people of this world; not by the principles of cunning, and mere policy, and expediency, which often characterize them. The phrase here stands opposed to simplicity and sincerity, to openness and straightforwardness. And Paul means to disclaim for himself, and for his fellow-laborers, all that carnal policy which distinguishes the mere people of the world. And if Paul deemed such policy improper for him, we should deem it improper for us; if he had no plans which he wished to advance by it, we should have none; if he would not employ it in the promotion of good plans, neither should we. It has been the curse of the church and the bane of religion; and it is to this day exerting a withering and blighting influence on the church. The moment that such plans are resorted to, it is proof that the vitality of religion is gone, and any man who feels that his purposes cannot be accomplished but by such carnal policy, should set it down as full demonstration that his plans are wrong, and that his purpose should be abandoned.
But by the grace of God – This phrase stands opposed, evidently, to “fleshly wisdom.” It means that Paul had been influenced by such sentiments and principles as would be suggested or prompted by the influence of his grace. Locke renders it, “by the favor of God directing me.” God had shown him favor; God had directed him; and he had kept him from the crooked and devious ways of mere worldly policy. The idea seems to be not merely that he had pursued a correct and upright course of life, but that he was indebted for this to the mere grace and favor of God, an idea which Paul omitted no opportunity of acknowledging.
We have had our conversation – We have conducted ourselves αναστραφημεν anastraphemen. The word used here means literally, “to turn up, to overturn”; then “to turn back, to return,” and in the middle voice, “to turn oneself around, to turn oneself to anything, and, also, to move about in, to live in, to be conversant with, to conduct oneself.” In this sense it seems to be used here; compare Heb_10:33; Heb_13:18; 1Ti_3:15; 1Pe_1:17. The word “conversation,” we usually apply to oral discourse, but in the Scriptures, it means “conduct,” and the sense of the passage is, that Paul had conducted himself in accordance with the principles of the grace of God, and had been influenced by that.
In the world – Everywhere; whereever I have been. This does not mean in the world as contradistinguished from the church, but in the world at large, or wherever he had been, as contradistinguished from the church at Corinth. It had been his common and universal practice.
And more abundantly to you-ward – Especially toward you. This was added doubtless because there had been charges against him in Corinth, that he had been crafty, cunning, deceitful, and especially that he had deceived them (see 2Co_1:17), in not visiting them as he had promised. He affirms, therefore, that in all things he had acted in the manner to which the grace of God prompted, and that his conduct, in all respects, had been that of entire simplicity and sincerity.
14.But thanks be to God Here he again glories in the success of his ministry, and shows that he had been far from idle in the various places he had visited; but that he may do this in no invidious way, he sets out with a thanksgiving, which we shall find him afterwards repeating. Now he does not, in a spirit of ambition, extol his own actions, that his name may be held in renown, nor does he, in mere pretense, give thanks to God in the manner of the Pharisee, while lifted up, in the mean time, with pride and arrogance. (Luk_18:11.) Instead of this, he desires from his heart, that whatever is worthy of praise, be recognised as the work of God alone, that his power alone may be extolled. Farther, he recounts his own praises with a view to the advantage of the Corinthians, that, on hearing that he had served the Lord with so much fruit in other places, they may not allow his labor to be unproductive among themselves, and may learn to respect his ministry, which God everywhere rendered so glorious and fruitful. For what God so illustriously honors, it is criminal to despise, or lightly esteem. Nothing was more injurious to the Corinthians, than to have an unfavorable view of Paul’s Apostleship and doctrine: nothing, on the other hand, was more advantageous, than to hold both in esteem. Now he had begun to be held in contempt by many, and hence, it was not his duty to be silent. In addition to this, he sets this holy boasting in opposition to the revilings of the wicked.
Who causeth us to triumph If you render the word literally, it will be, Qui nos triumphat— Who triumpheth over us. Paul, however, means something different from what this form of expression denotes among the Latins. For captives are said to be triumphed over, when, by way of disgrace, they are bound with chains and dragged before the chariot of the conqueror. Paul’s meaning, on the other hand, is, that he was also a sharer in the triumph enjoyed by God, because it had been gained by his instrumentality, just as the lieutenants accompanied on horseback the chariot of the chief general, as sharers in the honor. As, accordingly, all the ministers of the gospel fight under God’s auspices, so they also procure for him the victory and the honor of the triumph; but, at the same time, he honors each of them with a share of the triumph, according to the station assigned him in the army, and proportioned to the exertions made by him. Thus they enjoy, as it were, a triumph, but it is God’s rather than theirs.
He adds, in Christ, in whose person God himself triumphs, inasmuch as he has conferred upon him all the glory of empire. Should any one prefer to render it thus: “Who triumphs by means of us,” even in that way a sufficiently consistent meaning will be made out.
The odor of his knowledge. The triumph consisted in this, that God, through his instrumentality, wrought powerfully and gloriously, perfuming the world with the health-giving odor of his grace, while, by means of his doctrine, he brought some to the knowledge of Christ. He carries out, however, the metaphor of odor, by which he expresses both the delectable sweetness of the gospel, and its power and efficacy for inspiring life. In the mean time, Paul instructs them, that his preaching is so far from being savourless, that it quickens souls by its very odor. Let us, however, learn from this, that those alone make right proficiency in the gospel, who, by the sweet fragrance of Christ, are stirred up to desire him, so as to bid farewell to the allurements of the world.
He says in every place, intimating by these words, that he went to no place in which he did not gain some fruit, and that, wherever he went, there was to be seen some reward of his labor. The Corinthians were aware, in how many places he had previously sowed the seed of Christ’s gospel. He now says, that the last corresponded with the first.
Now, thanks be unto God – His coming dispelled all my fears, and was the cause of the highest satisfaction to my mind; and filled my heart with gratitude to God, who is the Author of all good, and who always causes us to triumph in Christ; not only gives us the victory, but such a victory as involves the total ruin of our enemies; and gives us cause of triumphing in him, through whom we have obtained this victory.
A triumph, among the Romans, to which the apostle here alludes, was a public and solemn honor conferred by them on a victorious general, by allowing him a magnificent procession through the city.
This was not granted by the senate unless the general had gained a very signal and decisive victory; conquered a province, etc. On such occasions the general was usually clad in a rich purple robe, interwoven with figures of gold, setting forth the grandeur of his achievements; his buskins were beset with pearls, and he wore a crown, which at first was of laurel, but was afterwards of pure gold. In one hand he had a branch of laurel, the emblem of victory; and in the other, his truncheon. He was carried in a magnificent chariot, adorned with ivory and plates of gold, and usually drawn by two white horses. (Other animals were also used: when Pompey triumphed over Africa, his chariot was drawn by elephants; that of Mark Antony, by lions; that of Heliogabalus, by tigers; and that of Aurelius, by deer.) His children either sat at his feet in the chariot, or rode on the chariot horses. To keep him humble amidst these great honors a slave stood at his back, casting out incessant railings, and reproaches; and carefully enumerating all his vices, etc. Musicians led up the procession, and played triumphal pieces in praise of the general; and these were followed by young men, who led the victims which were to be sacrificed on the occasion, with their horns gilded, and their heads and necks adorned with ribbons and garlands. Next followed carts loaded with the spoils taken from the enemy, with their horses, chariots, etc. These were followed by the kings, princes, or generals taken in the war, loaded with chains. Immediately after these came the triumphal chariot, before which, as it passed, the people strewed flowers, and shouted Io, triumphe!
The triumphal chariot was followed by the senate; and the procession was closed by the priests and their attendants, with the different sacrificial utensils, and a white ox, which was to be the chief victim. They then passed through the triumphal arch, along the via sacra to the capitol, where the victims were slain.
During this time all the temples were opened, and every altar smoked with offerings and incense.
The people at Corinth were sufficiently acquainted with the nature of a triumph: about two hundred years before this, Lucius Mummius, the Roman consul, had conquered all Achaia, destroyed Corinth, Thebes, and Chalcis; and, by order of the senate, had a grand triumph, and was surnamed Achaicus. St. Paul had now a triumph (but of a widely different kind) over the same people; his triumph was in Christ, and to Christ he gives all the glory; his sacrifice was that of thanksgiving to his Lord; and the incense offered on the occasion caused the savour of the knowledge of Christ to be manifested in every place. As the smoke of the victims and incense offered on such an occasion would fill the whole city with their perfume, so the odour of the name and doctrine of Christ filled the whole of Corinth and the neighboring regions; and the apostles appeared as triumphing in and through Christ, over devils, idols, superstition, ignorance, and vice, wherever they came.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Now — Greek, “But.” Though we left Troas disappointed in not meeting Titus there, and in having to leave so soon so wide a door, “thanks be unto God,” we were triumphantly blessed in both the good news of you from Titus, and in the victories of the Gospel everywhere in our progress. The cause of triumph cannot be restricted (as Alford explains) to the former; for “always,” and “in every place,” show that the latter also is intended.
causeth us to triumph — The Greek, is rather, as in Col_2:15, “triumphs over us”: “leadeth us in triumph.” Paul regarded himself as a signal trophy of God’s victorious power in Christ. His Almighty Conqueror was leading him about, through all the cities of the Greek and Roman world, as an illustrious example of His power at once to subdue and to save. The foe of Christ was now the servant of Christ. As to be led in triumph by man is the most miserable, so to be led in triumph by God is the most glorious, lot that can befall any [Trench]. Our only true triumphs are God’s triumphs over us. His defeats of us are our only true victories [Alford]. The image is taken from the triumphal procession of a victorious general. The additional idea is perhaps included, which distinguishes God’s triumph from that of a human general, that the captive is brought into willing obedience (2Co_10:5) to Christ, and so joins in the triumph: God “leads him in triumph” as one not merely triumphed over, but also as one triumphing over God’s foes with God (which last will apply to the apostle’s triumphant missionary progress under the leading of God). So Bengel: “Who shows us in triumph, not [merely] as conquered, but as the ministers of His victory. Not only the victory, but the open ‘showing’ of the victory is marked: for there follows, Who maketh manifest.”
savour — retaining the image of a triumph. As the approach of the triumphal procession was made known by the odor of incense scattered far and wide by the incense-bearers in the train, so God “makes manifest by us” (His now at once triumphed over and triumphing captives, compare Luk_5:10, “Catch,” literally, “Take captive so as to preserve alive”) the sweet savor of the knowledge of Christ, the triumphant Conqueror (Col_2:15), everywhere. As the triumph strikes the eyes, so the savor the nostrils; thus every sense feels the power of Christ’s Gospel. This manifestation (a word often recurring in his Epistles to the Corinthians, compare 1Co_4:5) refutes the Corinthian suspicions of his dishonestly, by reserve, hiding anything from them (2Co_2:17; 2Co_4:2).
Now thanks be unto God … – There seem to have been several sources of Paul’s joy on this occasion. The principal was, his constant and uniform success in endeavoring to advance the interests of the kingdom of the Redeemer. But in particular he rejoiced;
(1) Because Titus had come to him there, and had removed his distress; compare 2Co_2:13.
(2) because he learned from him that his efforts in regard to the church at Corinth had been successful, and that they had hearkened to his counsels in his first letter; and,
(3) Because he was favored with signal success in Macedonia. His being compelled, therefore, to remove from Troas and to go to Macedonia had been to him ultimately the cause of great joy and consolation. These instances of success Paul regarded as occasions of gratitude to God.
Which always causeth us – Whatever may be our efforts, and wherever we are. Whether it is in endeavoring to remove the errors and evils existing in a particular church, or whether it be in preaching the gospel in places where it has been unknown, still success crowns our efforts, and we have the constant evidence of divine approbation. This was Paul’s consolation in the midst of his many trials; and it proves that, whatever may be the external circumstances of a minister, whether poverty, want, persecution, or distress, he will have abundant occasion to give thanks to God if his efforts as a minister are crowned with success.
To triumph in Christ. – To triumph through the aid of Christ, or in promoting the cause of Christ. Paul had no joy which was not connected with Christ, and he had no success which he did not trace to him. The word which is rendered here as “triumph” (θριαμβευοντι thriambeuonti from θριαμβευω thriambeuo) occurs in no other place in the New Testament, except in Col_2:15. It is rendered there as “triumphing over them in it,” that is, triumphing over the principalities and powers which he had spoiled, or plundered; and it there means that Christ led them in triumph after the manner of a conqueror. The word is used here in a causative sense – the sense of the Hebrew Hiphil conjugation. It properly refers to a triumph; or a triumphal procession. Originally the word θριαμβος thriambos meant a hymn which was sung in honor of Bacchus; then the tumultuous and noisy procession which constituted the worship of the god of wine; and then any procession of a similar kind. – Passow. It was particularly applied among both the Greeks and the Romans to a public and solemn honor conferred on a victorious general on a return from a successful war in which he was allowed a magnificent entrance into the capital.
In these triumphs, the victorious commander was usually preceded or attended by the spoils of war; by the most valuable and magnificent articles which he had captured; and by the princes, nobles, generals, or people whom he had subdued. The victor was drawn in a magnificent chariot, usually by two white horses. Other animals were sometimes used. “When Pompey triumphed over Africa, his chariot was drawn by elephants; that of Mark Antony was drawn by lions; that of Heliogabalus pulled by tigers; and that of Aurelius drawn by deer” – Clark. The people of Corinth were not unacquainted with the nature of a triumph. About 147 years before Christ, Lucius Mummius, the Roman consul, had conquered all Achaia, and had destroyed Corinth, Thebes, and Colchis, and by order of the Roman Senate was favored with a triumph, and was surnamed Achaicus. Tyndale renders this place: “Thanks be unto God which always giveth us the victory in Christ.” Paul refers here to a victory which he had, and a triumph with which he was favored by the Redeemer. It was a victory over the enemies of the gospel; it was success in advancing the interests of the kingdom of Christ; and he rejoiced in that victory, and in that success, with more solid and substantial joy than a Roman victor ever felt on returning from his conquests over nations, even when attended with the richest spoils of victory, and by humbled princes and kings in chains, and when the assembled thousands shouted Io triumphe!
And maketh manifest – Makes known; spreads abroad – as a pleasant fragrance is diffused through the air.
The savor – (οσμην osmen). The smell; the fragrance. The word in the New Testament is used to denote a pleasant or fragrant odor, as of incense, or aromatics; Joh_12:3 see Eph_5:2; Phi_4:18. There is an allusion here doubtless to the fact that in the triumphal processions fragrant odors were diffused around; flowers, diffusing a grateful smell, were scattered in the way; and on the altars of the gods incense was burned during the procession, and sacrifices offered, and the whole city was filled with the smoke of sacrifices, and with perfumes. So Paul speaks of knowledge – the knowledge of Christ. In his triumphings, the knowledge of the Redeemer was diffused abroad, like the odors which were diffused in the triumphal march of the conqueror. And that odor or savor was acceptable to God – as the fragrance of aromatics and of incense was pleasant in the triumphal procession of the returning victor. The phrase “makes manifest the savor of his knowledge,” therefore, means, that the knowledge of Christ was diffused everywhere by Paul, as the grateful smell of aromatics was diffused all around the triumphing warrior and victor. The effect of Paul’s conquests everywhere was to diffuse the knowledge of the Saviour – and this was acceptable and pleasant to God – though there might be many who would not avail themselves of it, and would perish; see 2Co_2:15.
15.A sweet odor of Christ The metaphor which he had applied to the knowledge of Christ, he now transfers to the persons of the Apostles, but it is for the same reason. For as they are called the light of the world, (Mat_5:14,) because they enlighten men by holding forth the torch of the gospel, and not as if they shone forth upon them with their own lustre; so they have the name of odor, not as if they emitted any fragrance of themselves, but because the doctrine which they bring is odoriferous, so that it can imbue the whole world with its delectable fragrance. It is certain, however, that this commendation is applicable to all the ministers of the gospel, because wherever there is a pure and unvarnished proclamation of the gospel, there will be found there the influence of that odor, of which Paul here speaks. At the same time, there is no doubt, that he speaks particularly of himself, and those that were like him, turning to his own commendation what slanderers imputed to him as a fault. For his being opposed by many, and exposed to the hatred of many, was the reason why they despised him. He, accordingly, replies, that faithful and upright ministers of the gospel have a sweet odor before God, not merely when they quicken souls by a wholesome savour, but also, when they bring destruction to unbelievers. Hence the gospel ought not to be less esteemed on that account. “Both odors,” says he, “are grateful to God — that by which the elect are refreshed unto salvation, and that from which the wicked receive a deadly shock.”
Here we have a remarkable passage, by which we are taught, that, whatever may be the issue of our preaching, it is, notwithstanding, well-pleasing to God, if the Gospel is preached, and our service will be acceptable to him; and also, that it does not detract in any degree from the dignity of the Gospel, that it does not do good to all; for God is glorified even in this, that the Gospel becomes an occasion of ruin to the wicked, nay, it must turn out so. If, however, this is a sweet odor to God, it ought to be so to us also, or in other words, it does not become us to be offended, if the preaching of the Gospel is not salutary to all; but on the contrary, let us reckon, that it is quite enough, if it advance the glory of God by bringing just condemnation upon the wicked. If, however, the heralds of the Gospel are in bad odor in the world, because their success does not in all respects come up to their desires, they have this choice consolation, that they waft to God the perfume of a sweet fragrance, and what is to the world an offensive smell, is a sweet odor to God and angels.
The term odor is very emphatic. “Such is the influence of the Gospel in both respects, that it either quickens or kills, not merely by its taste, but by its very smell. Whatever it may be, it is never preached in vain, but has invariably an effect, either for life, or for death.” But it is asked, how this accords with the nature of the Gospel, which we shall find him, a little afterwards, calling the ministry of life? (2Co_3:6.) The answer is easy: The Gospel is preached for salvation: this is what properly belongs to it; but believers alone are partakers of that salvation. In the mean time, its being an occasion of condemnation to unbelievers — that arises from their own fault. Thus Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, (Joh_3:17,) for what need was there of this, inasmuch as without him we are all condemned? Yet he sends his apostles to bind, as well as to loose, and to retain sins, as well as remit them. (Mat_18:18; Joh_20:23.) He is the light of the world, (Joh_8:12,) but he blinds unbelievers. (Joh_9:39.) He is a Rock, for a foundation, but he is also to many a stone of stumbling. (Isa_8:14.) We must always, therefore, distinguish between the proper office of the Gospel, and the accidental one (so to speak) which must be imputed to the depravity of mankind, to which it is owing, that life to them is turned into death.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
The order is in Greek, “For (it is) of Christ (that) we are a sweet savor unto God”; thus, the “for” justifies his previous words (2Co_2:14), “the savor of HIS (Christ’s) knowledge.” We not only scatter the savor; but “we are the sweet savor” itself (Son_1:3; compare Joh_1:14, Joh_1:16; Eph_5:2; 1Jo_2:27).
in them that are saved — rather, “that are being saved … that are perishing” (see on 1Co_1:18). As the light, though it blinds in darkness the weak, is for all that still light; and honey, though it taste bitter to the sick, is in itself still sweet; so the Gospel is still of a sweet savor, though many perish through unbelief [Chrysostom, Homilies, 5.467], (2Co_4:3, 2Co_4:4, 2Co_4:6). As some of the conquered foes led in triumph were put to death when the procession reached the capitol, and to them the smell of the incense was the “savor of death unto death,” while to those saved alive, it was the “savor of life,” so the Gospel was to the different classes respectively.
and in them — in the case of them. “Those being saved” (2 Corinthians 3:1-4:2): “Those that are perishing” (2Co_4:3-5).
For we are unto God – We who are his ministers, and who thus triumph. It is implied here that Paul felt that ministers were laboring for God, and felt assured that their labors would be acceptable to him. The object of Paul in the statement, in this and in the following verses, is undoubtedly to meet the charges of his detractors and enemies. He says, therefore, that whatever was the result of his labors in regard to the future salvation of people; yet, that his well-meant endeavors, and labors, and self-denials in preaching the gospel, were acceptable to God. The measure of God’s approbation in the case was not his success, but his fidelity, his zeal, his self-denial, whatever might be the reception of the gospel among those who heard it.
A sweet savor – Like the smell of pleasant incense, or of grateful aromatics, such as were burned in the triumphal processions of returning conquerors. The meaning is, that their labors were acceptable to God; he was pleased with them, and would bestow on them the smiles and proofs of his approbation. The word rendered here as “sweet savor” (εὐωδία euōdia) occurs only in this place, and in Eph_5:2; Phi_4:18; and is applied to persons or things well-pleasing to God. It properly means good odor, or fragrance, and in the Septuagint it is frequently applied to the incense that was burnt in the public worship of God and to sacrifices in general; Gen_8:21; Exo_29:18, Exo_29:25, Exo_29:41; Lev_1:9, Lev_1:13, Lev_1:17; Lev_2:2, Lev_2:9,Lev_2:12; Lev_3:5, Lev_3:16; Lev_4:31, etc. Here it means that the services of Paul and the other ministers of religion were as grateful to God as sweet incense, or acceptable sacrifices.
Of Christ – That is, we are Christ’s sweet savor to God: we are that which he has appointed, and which he has devoted and consecrated to God; we are the offering, so to speak, which he is continually making to God.
In them that are saved – In regard to them who believe the gospel through our ministry and who are saved. Our labor in carrying the gospel to them, and in bringing them to the knowledge of the truth, is acceptable to God. Their salvation is an object of his highest desire, and he is gratified with our fidelity, and with our success. This reason why their work was acceptable to God is more fully stated in the following verse, where it is said that in reference to them they were the “savor of life unto life.” The word “saved” here refers to all who become Christians, and who enter heaven; and as the salvation of people is an object of such desire to God, it cannot but be that all who bear the gospel to people are engaged in an acceptable service, and that all their efforts will be pleasing to him, and approved in his sight In regard to this part of Paul’s statement, there can be no difficulty.
And in them that perish – In reference to them who reject the gospel, and who are finally lost. It is implied here:
(1) That some would reject the gospel and perish, with whatever fidelity and self-denial the ministers of religion might labor.
(2) that though this would be the result, yet the labors of the ministers of religion would be acceptable to God. This is a fearful and awful declaration, and has been thought by many to be attended with difficulty. A few remarks may present the true sense of the passage, and remove the difficulty from it:
(a) It is not affirmed or implied here that the destruction of those who would reject the gospel, and who would perish, was desired by God or would be pleasing to him. This is nowhere affirmed or implied in the Bible.
(b) It is affirmed only that the labors of the ministers of religion in endeavoring to save them would be acceptable and pleasing to God. Their labors would be in order to save them, not to destroy them.
Their desire was to bring all to heaven – and this was acceptable to God. Whatever might be the result, whether successful or not, yet God would be pleased with self-denial, and toil, and prayer that was honestly and zealously put forth to save others from death. They would be approved by God in proportion to the amount of labor, zeal, and fidelity which they evinced.
(3) it would be by no fault of faithful ministers that people would perish. Their efforts would be to save them, and those efforts would be pleasing to God.
(4) it would be by no fault of the gospel that people would perish. The regular and proper tendency of the gospel is to save, not to destroy men; as the tendency of medicine is to heal them, of food to support the body, of air to give vitality, of light to give pleasure to the eye, etc. It is provided for all, and is adapted to all. There is a sufficiency in the gospel. for all people, and in its nature it is as really suited to save one as another. Whatever may be the manner in which it is received, it is always in itself the same pure and glorious system; full of benevolence and mercy. The bitterest enemy of the gospel cannot point to one of its provisions that is adapted or designed to make people miserable, and to destroy them. All its provisions are adapted to salvation; all its arrangements are those of benevolence; all the powers and influences which it originates, are those which are suited to save, not to destroy people. The gospel is what it is in itself – a pure, holy, and benevolent system, and is answerable only for effects which a pure, holy, and benevolent system is suited to produce. To use the beautiful language of Theodoret, as quoted by Bloomfield: “We indeed bear the sweet odor of Christ’s gospel to all; but all who participate in it do not experience its salutiferous effects. Thus, to diseased eyes even the light of heaven is noxious; yet the sun does not bring the injury. And to those in a fever, honey is bitter; yet it is sweet nevertheless. Vultures too, it is said, fly away from sweet odors of myrrh; yet myrrh is myrrh though the vultures avoid it, Thus, if some be saved, though others perish, the gospel retains its own virtue, and we the preachers of it remain just as we are; and the gospel retains its odorous and salutiferous properties, though some may disbelieve and abuse it, and perish.” Yet:
(5) It is implied that the gospel would be the occasion of heavier condemnation to some, and that they would sink into deeper ruin in consequence of its being preached to them. This is implied in the expression in 2Co_2:16, “to the one we are a savor of death unto death.” In the explanation of this, we may observe:
(a) That those who perish would have perished at any rate. All were under condemnation whether the gospel had come to them or not. None will perish in consequence of the gospel’s having been sent to them who would not have perished had it been unknown. People do not perish because the gospel is sent to them, but for their own sins.
(b) It is in fact by their own fault that people reject the gospel, and that they are lost. They are voluntary in this; and, whatever is their final destiny, they are not under compulsion. The gospel compels no one against his will either to go to heaven, or to hell.
(c) People under the gospel sin against greater light than they do without it. They have more to answer for. It increases their responsibility. If, therefore, they reject it, and go down to eternal death, they go from higher privileges; and they go, of course, to meet a more aggravated condemnation. For condemnation will always be in exact proportion to guilt; and guilt is in proportion to abused light and privileges.
(d) The preaching of the gospel, and the offers of life, are often the occasion of the deeper guilt of the sinner. Often he becomes enraged. He gives vent to the deep malignity of his soul. He opposes the gospel with malice and infuriated anger, His eye kindles with indignation, and his lip curls with pride and scorn. He is profane and blasphemous; and the offering of the gospel to him is the occasion of exciting deep and malignant passions against God, against the Saviour, against the ministers of religion. Against the gospel, people often manifest the same malignity and scorn which they did against the Saviour himself. Yet this is not the fault of the gospel, nor of the ministers of religion. It is the fault of sinners themselves; and while there can be no doubt that such a rejection of the gospel will produce their deeper condemnation, and that it is a savor of death unto death unto them; still the gospel is good and benevolent, and still God will be pleased with those who faithfully offer its provisions, and who urge it on the attention of people.
16.And who is sufficient for these things?This exclamation is thought by some to be introduced by way of guarding against arrogance, for he confesses, that to discharge the office of a good Apostle to Christ is a thing that exceeds all human power, and thus he ascribes the praise to God. Others think, that he takes notice of the small number of good ministers. I am of opinion, that there is an implied contrast that is shortly afterwards expressed. “Profession, it is true, is common, and many confidently boast; but to have the reality, is indicative of a rare and distinguished excellence. I claim nothing for myself, but what will be discovered to be in me, if trial is made.” Accordingly, as those, who hold in common the office of instructor, claim to themselves indiscriminately the title, Paul, by claiming to himself a peculiar excellence, separates himself from the herd of those, who had little or no experience of the influence of the Spirit.
To the one we are the savour of death unto death – There are several sayings among the ancient Jewish writers similar to this. In Debarim Rabba, sec. i. fol. 248, it is said: “As the bee brings home honey to its owner, but stings others; so it is with the words of the law;” סם חיים לישראל sam chaiyim leyisrael, “They are a savour of lives to the Israelites:” וסם המות לאומות העולם vesam hammaveth leomoth haolam, “And a savour of death to the people of this world.” The learned reader may see much more to this effect in Schoettgen. The apostle’s meaning is plain: those who believe and receive the Gospel are saved; those who reject it, perish. The meaning of the rabbins is not less plain: the Israelites received the law and the prophets as from God, and thus possessed the means of salvation; the Gentiles ridiculed and despised them, and thus continued in the path of death. The same happens to the present day to those who receive and to those who reject the Gospel: it is the means of salvation to the former, it is the means of destruction to the latter; for they are not only not saved because they do not believe the Gospel, but they are condemned because they reject it. For how can they escape who neglect so great a salvation? The sun which nourishes the tree that is planted in a good soil, decomposes and destroys it if plucked up and laid on the surface.
That the saved, σωζομενοι, and they that perish, απολλυμενοι, mean those who receive and obey the Gospel, and those who reject it and live and die in sin, needs no proof. No other kinds of reprobate and elect, in reference to the eternal world, are known in the Book of God, though they abound in the books of men. The Jews were possessed with such an exalted opinion of their own excellence that they imagined that all the love and mercy of God were concentrated among themselves, and that God never would extend his grace to the Gentiles.
Such sentiments may become Jews but when we find some Gentiles arrogating to themselves all the salvation of God, and endeavoring to prove that he has excluded the major part even of their own world – the Gentiles, from the possibility of obtaining mercy; and that God has made an eternal purpose, that the death of Christ shall never avail them, and that no saving grace shall ever be granted to them, and that they shall infallibly and eternally perish; what shall we say to such things? It is Judaism in its worst shape: Judaism with innumerable deteriorations. The propagators of such systems must answer for them to God.
Who is sufficient for these things? – Is it the false apostle that has been labouring to pervert you? Or, is it the men to whom God has given an extraordinary commission, and sealed it by the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost? That this is the apostle’s meaning is evident from the following verse.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
savour of death unto death … of life unto life — an odor arising out of death (a mere announcement of a dead Christ, and a virtually lifeless Gospel, in which light unbelievers regard the Gospel message), ending (as the just and natural consequence) in death (to the unbeliever); (but to the believer) an odor arising out of life (that is, the announcement of a risen and living Savior), ending in life (to the believer) (Mat_21:44; Luk_2:34; Joh_9:39).
who is sufficient for these things? — namely, for diffusing aright everywhere the savor of Christ, so diverse in its effects on believers and unbelievers. He here prepares the way for one purpose of his Epistle, namely, to vindicate his apostolic mission from its detractors at Corinth, who denied his sufficiency. The Greek order puts prominently foremost the momentous and difficult task assigned to him, “For these things, who is sufficient?” He answers his own question (2Co_3:5, 2Co_3:6), “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, who hath made us able (Greek, ‘sufficient’) ministers,” etc.
To the one – To those who perish.
We are the savour of death unto death – We are the occasion of deepening their condemnation, and of sinking them lower into ruin. The expression used here means literally, “to the one class we bear a death-conveying odor leading to their death” – a savor, a smell which, under the circumstances, is destructive to life, and which leads to death. Mr. Locke renders this: “To the one my preaching is of ill savor, unacceptable and offensive, by their rejecting whereof they draw death on themselves.” Grateful as their labors were to God, and acceptable as would be their efforts, whatever might be the results, yet Paul could not be ignorant that the gospel would in fact be the means of greater condemnation to many; see the notes on 2Co_2:15. It was indeed by their own fault; yet wherever the gospel was preached, it would to many have this result. It is probable that the language here used is borrowed from similar expressions which were common among the Jews. Thus, in Debarim Rabba, sec. 1, fol. 248, it is said, “As the bee brings home honey to the owner, but stings others, so it is with the words of the Law.” “They (the words of the Law) are a savor of life to Israel, but a savor of death to the people of this world.”
Thus, in Taarieth, fol. 7, 1, “Whoever gives attention to the Law on account of the Law itself, to him it becomes an aromatic of life (סם חיים cam chayiym), but to him who does not attend to the Law on account of the Law itself, to him it becomes an aromatic of death (סם מות cam mowt) “ – the idea of which is, that as medicines skillfully applied will heal, but if unskillfully applied will aggravate a disease, so it is with the words of the Law. Again, “The word of the Law which proceeds out of the mouth of God is an odor of life to the Israelites, but an odor of death to the Gentiles;” see Rosenmuller, and Bloomfield. The sense of the passage is plain, that the gospel, by the willful rejection of it, becomes the means of the increased guilt and condemnation of many of those who hear it.
And to the other – To those who embrace it, and are saved.
The savor of life – An odor, or fragrance producing life, or tending to life. It is a living, or life-giving savor. it is in itself grateful and pleasant.
Unto life – Tending to life; or adapted to produce life. The word “life” here, as often elsewhere, is used to denote salvation. It is:
(1) Life in opposition to the death in sin in which all are by nature;
(2) In opposition to death in the grave – as it leads to a glorious resurrection;
(3) In opposition to eternal death; to the second dying, as it leads to life and peace and joy in heaven; see the words “life” and “death” explained in the notes on Rom_6:23. The gospel is “the savor of life unto life,” because:
(a) It is its nature and tendency to produce life and salvation. It is adapted to that; and is designed to that end.
(b) Because it actually results in the life and salvation of those who embrace it. It is the immediate and direct cause of their salvation; of their recovery from sin; of their glorious resurrection; of their eternal life in heaven.
And who is sufficient for these things? – For the arduous and responsible work of the ministry; for a work whose influence must be felt either in the eternal salvation, or the eternal ruin of the soul. Who is worthy of so important a charge? Who can undertake it without trembling? Who can engage in it without feeling that he is in himself unfit for it, and that he needs constant divine grace? This is an exclamation which anyone may well make in view of the responsibilites of the work of the ministry. And we may remark:
(1) If Paul felt this, assuredly others should feel it also. If, With all the divine assistance which he had; all the proofs of the unique presence of God, and all the mighty miraculous powers conferred on him, Paul had such a sense of unfitness for this great work, then a consciousness of unfitness, and a deep sense of responsibility, may well rest on all others.
(2) it was this sense of the responsibility of the ministry which contributed much to Paul’s success. It was a conviction that the results of his work must be seen in the joys of heaven, or the woes of hell, that led him to look to God for aid, and to devote himself so entirely to his great work. People will not feel much concern unless they have a deep sense of the magnitude and responsibility of their work. People who feel as they should about the ministry will look to God for aid, and will feel that he alone can sustain them in their arduous duties.
17.For we are not. He now contrasts himself more openly with the false apostles, and that by way of amplifying, and at the same time, with the view of excluding them from the praise that he had claimed to himself. “It is on good grounds,” says he, “that I speak in honorable terms of my apostleship, for I am not afraid of being convicted of vanity, if proof is demanded. But many on false grounds arrogate the same thing to themselves, who will be found to have nothing in common with me. For they adulterate the word of the Lord, which I dispense with the greatest faithfulness and sincerity for the edification of the Church.” I do not think it likely, however, that those, who are here reproved, preached openly wicked or false doctrines; but am rather of opinion, that they corrupted the right use of doctrine, for the sake either of gain or of ambition, so as utterly to deprive it of energy. This he terms adulterating. Erasmus prefers to render it— cauponari— huckstering The Greek word καπηλεύειν, is taken from retailers, or tavern-keepers, who are accustomed to adulterate their commodities, that they may fetch a higher price. I do not know whether the word cauponariis used in that sense among the Latins.
It is, indeed, certain from the corresponding clause, that Paul intended to express here — corruption of doctrine — not as though they had revolted from the truth, but because they presented it under disguise, and not in its genuine purity. For the doctrine of God is corrupted in two ways. It is corrupted in a directway, when it is mixed up with falsehood and lies, so as to be no longer the pure and genuine doctrine of God, but is falsely commended under that title. It is corrupted indirectly, when, although retaining its purity, it is turned hither and thither to please men, and is disfigured by unseemly disguises, by way of hunting after favor. Thus there will be found some, in whose doctrine there will be no impiety detected, but as they hunt after the applauses of the world by making a display of their acuteness and eloquence, or are ambitious of some place, or gape for filthy lucre, (1Ti_3:8,) or are desirous by some means or other to rise, they, nevertheless, corrupt the doctrine itself by wrongfully abusing it, or making it subservient to their depraved inclinations. I am, therefore, inclined to retain the word adulterate, as it expresses better what ordinarily happens in the case of all that play with the sacred word of God, as with a ball, and transform it according to their own convenience. For it must necessarily be, that they degenerate from the truth, and preach a sort of artificial and spurious Gospel.
But as of sincerity. The word as here is superfluous, as in many other places. In contrast with the corruption that he had made mention of, he makes use, first of all, of the term sincerity, which may be taken as referring to the manner of preaching, as well as to the disposition of the mind. I approve rather of the latter. Secondly, he places in contrast with it a faithful and conscientious dispensation of it, inasmuch as he faithfully delivers to the Church from hand to hand, as they say, the Gospel which God had committed to him, and had given him in charge. Thirdly, he subjoins to this a regard to the Divine presence. For whoever has the three following things, is in no danger of forming the purpose of corrupting the word of God. The first is — that we be actuated by a true zeal for God. The second is — that we bear in mind that it is his business that we are transacting, and bring forward nothing but what has come from him. The third is — that we consider, that we do nothing of which he is not the witness and spectator, and thus learn to refer every thing to his judgment.
In Christ means according to Christ. For the rendering of Erasmus, By Christ, is foreign to Paul’s intention.
Lest the false apostles and teachers in this church should slight this exclamation of the apostle’s, and the pretended difficulty he made of the ministerial work, the apostle adds these words: I confess (saith he) it is no very difficult thing to speak of Christ, and pretend to preach and do as much as I do; but there are many kaphleuontev, we translate it, corrupt the word; the Greek word signifies, to sell wine or victuals for money; and because such kind of people make no conscience to deceive, cheat, and deal fraudulently with their customers, it is sometimes used to signify corrupting or deceiving. We are not (saith the apostle) of the number of those who in preaching merely serve their own bellies, and turn the church into a tavern or victualling house, making a gain of the gospel, and discoursing a little while in a pulpit for gain; and so making no conscience, either what they speak, or how they speak. But we speak by authority from Christ, and in Christ’s name; clothed with his authority, and as his ambassadors; and so dare not say any thing unto people, and deliver to his people what he never gave us any commission to speak, nor yet to speak whatever cometh at our tongue’s end; but we must remember that we are
in the sight of God, and speak as from God of God; and that not fraudulently, but sincerely; sincerely aiming at the glory of God in what we do, and the salvation of the souls of them to whom we speak. This is a great work, first to consult the mind and will of God, and find it out by study and meditation; then faithfully to communicate it unto people, without any vain or corrupt mixtures (which do but adulterate the word preached); then to apply it to the consciences of those that hear us.
Who is sufficient for these things? That is, to discharge the office of the ministry in the preaching of the gospel, as men ought to preach it.
For we are not as many – This refers doubtless to the false teachers at Corinth; and to all who mingled human philosophy or tradition with the pure word of truth. Paul’s design in the statement in this verse seems to be to affirm that he had such a deep sense of the responsibility of the ministerial office, and of its necessary influence on the eternal destiny of man, that it led him to preach the simple gospel, the pure word of God. He did not dare to dilute it with any human mixture. He did not dare to preach philosophy, or human wisdom. He did not dare to mingle with it the crude conceptions of man. He sought to exhibit the simple truth as it was in Jesus; and so deep was his sense of the responsibility of the office, and so great was his desire on the subject, that he had been enabled to do it. and to triumph always in Christ. So that, although he was conscious that he was in himself unfit for these things, yet by the grace of God he had been able always to exhibit the simple truth, and his labors had been crowned with constant and signal success.
Which corrupt the word of God – Margin, “deal deceitfully with.” The word used here (καπηλευοντες kapeleuontes) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and does not occur in the Septuagint. The word is derived from καπηλος kapelos, which signifies properly a huckster, or a retailer of wine, a petty chapman; a man who buys up articles for the purpose of selling them again. It also means sometimes a vintner, or an innkeeper. The proper idea is that of a small dealer and especially in wine. Such persons were notorious, as they are now, for diluting their wines with water (compare the Septuagint in Isa_1:22); and for compounding wines of other substances than the juice of the grape for purposes of gain. Wine, of all substances in trade, perhaps, affords the greatest facilities for such dishonest tricks; and, accordingly, the dealers in that article have generally been most distinguished for fraudulent practices and corrupt and diluted mixtures. Hence, the word comes to denote to adulterate; to corrupt, etc. It is here applied to those who adulterated or corrupted the pure word of God in any way, and for any purpose. It probably has particular reference to those who did it either by Judaizing opinions, or by the mixtures of a false and deceitful philosophy. The latter mode would be likely to prevail among the subtle and philosophizing Greeks. It is in such ways that the gospel has been usually corrupted:
(1) It is done by attempting to attach a philosophical explanation to the facts of revelation, and making the theory as important as the fact.
(2) by attempting to explain away the offensive points of revelation by the aid of philosophy.
(3) by attempting to make the facts of Scripture accord with the prevalent notions of philosophy, and by applying a mode of interpretation to the Bible which would fritter away its meaning, and make it mean anything or nothing at pleasure. In these, and in various other ways, people have corrupted the Word of God; and of all the evils which Christianity has ever sustained in this world, the worst have been those which it has received from philosophy, and from those teachers who have corrupted the Word of God. The fires of persecution it could meet, and still be pure; the utmost efforts of princes, and monarchs, and of Satan to destroy it, it has outlived, and has shone purely and brightly amidst all these efforts; but, when corrupted by philosophy, and by “science falsely so called,” it has been dimmed in its luster, paralyzed in its aims, and shorn of its power, and has ceased to be mighty in pulling down the strong holds of Satan’s kingdom. Accordingly, the enemy of God has ceased to excite persecution, and now aims in various ways to corrupt the gospel by the admixture of philosophy, and of human opinions. Tyndale renders this passage, “For we are not as many are which choppe and change with the word of God” – an idea which is important and beautiful – but this is one of the few instances in which he mistook the sense of the original text. In general, the accuracy of his translation and his acquaintance with the true sense of the Greek text are very remarkable.
But as of sincerity – Sincerely; actuated by unmingled honesty and simplicity of aim; see the note on 2Co_1:12.
As of God – As influenced by him; as under his control and direction; as having been sent by him; as acting by his command; see the note, 2Co_1:12.
In the sight of God – As if we felt that his eye was always on us. Nothing is better suited to make a person sincere and honest, than this.
Speak we in Christ – In the name, and in the service of Christ. We deliver our message with a deep consciousness that the eye of the all-seeing God is on us; that we can conceal nothing from Him; and that we must soon give up our account to Him.