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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

There is an unfortunate break between chapter four and chapter five because verse 1 of this chapter continues the preceding thought without a disruption. Paul is discussing the reason believers are to keep their thoughts permanently set on eternal things in heaven, things God has prepared for His faithful children.

Verse 1

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

For we know: The words "we know" (eido) mean "we assuredly know" (Bloomfield 222). Paul’s message is that true Christians through their firm faith can be assured of an eternal home in heaven. This knowledge is not knowledge gained from their own intelligence or from their experiences, or even knowledge learned from the teachings of other men; instead, it is knowledge given by divine revelation.

that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved: During the Israelites’ travels across the wilderness, they worshiped in God’s house called a "tabernacle." In this tabernacle, the Spirit of God dwelled in the area called the Most Holy Place until the end of their pilgrimage in which God’s Spirit merged into the more permanent structure called the Temple of Solomon.

In this passage, Paul describes the believer’s life after death by emphasizing the differences between the heavenly home and the earthly home. He contrasts our temporary earthly body, which like the physical tabernacle will eventually wear out and be of no value, to our eternal heavenly body that will last forever. The "earthly house of this tabernacle" figuratively refers to the fact that the fleshly and perishable body in which we now live will be "dissolved" (kataluo), meaning it will be "demolish(ed)" (Arndt and Gingrich 415) or destroyed by God as it returns to dust. This earthly body is pictured as a "tabernacle" (skenos), that is, a temporary residence in which we are "physically alive" (Arndt and Gingrich 762) because it, as all manmade material, is only transitory. Upon the death of this physical body, the spirit leaves the body and returns to God. Solomon, the wise man speaking about man’s impending death, says, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens: Since our earthly body is perishable, we are promised by God that this tabernacle, this fragile body, will be replaced with another building, "a building of God," that is, an "eternal" (aionios) or "everlasting" body (Strong 166); a body "without end" (Arndt and Gingrich 28) that "pleased Him" (1 Corinthians 15:38).

The earthly body also is from God, but the resurrection- body will be in a special creative sense one (sic), not indeed that has proceeded from God, but that is given by God (Meyer 507-508).

The purpose of mentioning our earthly body in contrast to the eternal body is that even though the apostles suffer persecution and even death of the physical body, there is still a spiritual body created by God awaiting them—a body that is eternal and suitable for heaven. Barnes is correct as he explains, "In the prospect of their heavenly home, and their eternal rest, they were willing to endure all the trials which were appointed to them" (102-103). Paul teaches the same message in writing to the Christians in Philippi:

Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself (Philippians 3:21).

Verse 2

For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:

In this verse and in verses 3 and 4, it almost appears that Paul is expressing apprehension that he may survive until the second return of Christ. The fact is, he looks forward to his new eternal body that will be free from the difficulties that he endures in this life.

For in this we groan: In this earthly body, speaking of the time we live here on this earth, we "groan" (stenazo), that is, we "murmur" (Strong 4727) because of physical suffering and infirmities of our present body. Alford says that Paul feels "weighed down by the body" (65).

earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: Paul, then, mixed his figures and instead of comparing the body to a building only, such as a tabernacle, he also compares the earthly body to clothing.

The words "earnestly desiring" (epipotheo), as used here, always expresses a longing to go home. It is as though he is experiencing "home-sickness" (Alford 65) for saints who have already left this earthly life. As we grow older and face more difficulties in this physical body, and as a Christian faces spiritual persecution, we start "desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." In other words, we start looking forward to the eternal home in heaven where our earthly perishable body will be replaced with a better new, heavenly and eternal body.

Verse 3

If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.

Paul is speaking of life after death and explains that although at death the spirit separates from the body that in heaven the spirit will "not be found naked" but will be clothed with a new eternal body. The word "naked" (gumnos), used figuratively here, refers to the spirit without the clothing of a body. His message is that as we patiently worship and serve God on this earth, God is preparing our new heavenly body for our everlasting home in heaven as promised by Jesus:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:1-3).

Bratcher’s translation of verses 2 and 3 expresses the thought well:

While we live in this body we are unhappy and sigh, because we want the other body, the one from heaven, to be put on over us. We want to be in our new body, and then we will never be without a body (52).

Verse 4

For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.

For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon: As Paul continues this same figure of our earthly body’s being compared to clothing, he pictures the physical body’s being removed at death and the spiritual body’s being put on in heaven. Furthermore, he pictures this earthly body, figuratively speaking, as "being burdened" (bareo). By this description, he means heavily "press(ed)" (Strong (916), caused by "anxiety of uncertainty" (Dummelow 933). As it advances in years, the earthly body increases in weakness, frailty, and pain, and sometimes these weaknesses cause anxiety; therefore, we should remember that all of these difficulties will be removed in heaven.

that mortality might be swallowed up of life: The word translated "mortality" (thnetos) means "liable to death" (Thayer 291-2-2349), referring to the physical body as dying. Paul’s message, however, is that this dying physical body will be "swallowed up" (katapino), sometimes translated "overwhelmed" or "transformed" (Bratcher 53) to eternal life. The message here is the same teaching as in Paul’s previous letter when he, speaking of the earthly body’s changing into an eternal body, writes:

This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

Verse 5

Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.

Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God: The word "wrought" (katergazomai) means "to work fully, i.e. accomplish; by implication, to finish, fashion" (Strong 2716), meaning that God has provided it. He has accomplished and prepared for us this "selfsame thing," that is, the change from a temporary earthly body to a heavenly everlasting body—from the physical body to a spiritual body.

who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit: "Earnest" (arrhabon) means "a pledge" (Strong 728) that a promise made will be fulfilled. It has the same implication as "earnest money" when given at the signing of a contract to purchase property, assuring that the buyer is serious and will not change his mind about purchasing the property—he will follow through with his promise. "The earnest of the Spirit," then, is God’s giving us the Holy Spirit as a "pledge," or "guarantee" (NKJV) that everything He has promised about our future eternal body will be fulfilled; specifically, Paul refers to the fact that the mortal body will become an immortal body. Paul makes reference to this same idea earlier in this same letter, saying, " (God) who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (1:22). God’s pledge of the Holy Spirit has also brought benefits to us in this life. He inspired the writers of the holy scriptures so that they might teach His children how to prepare for the heavenly mansion. In other words, God wants us to know what to expect when Jesus returns. Paul emphasizes this fact in his letter to the Thessalonians:

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).

Paul realizes that God wants His children to know what is expected of them spiritually so they will be content to live longer on this earth. He emphasizes this fact when he writes to the Philippian church about his personal feelings:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again (Philippians 1:21-26).

Verse 6

Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

In verses 6 through 9, Paul contrasts the two Greek words, endemeo and ekdemeo, that is, he presents a contrast between being "in the body," (endemeo) or "absent" (endemeo) (verse 9) from the Lord "whilst we are at home (endemeo) in the body" (verse 6) and being "present" (ekdemeo) with the Lord by being "absent" (ekdemeo) from the body (verse 8).

The soul has two homes, a bodily and a spiritual, and the latter is preferable; but the latter is not attained before the resurrection day. In the state between death and resurrection, of which Paul speaks in verse 4, the spirit is with Christ, as we are here informed (McGarvey 193-194).

The purpose of this contrast is to provide the assurance we have been given from the Holy Spirit. While we are now living—that is, we are "at home in the body" (earthly body)—we are, then, "absent" (ekdemeo) or "vacate" (Strong 1553) from the Lord. Even so, Christians are still to be "confident" (tharrheo), be "boldly confidence" (Strong 2292) or encouraged not to lose hope. The reason for this hope is there will undeniably be a transformation from this earthly body to a heavenly body when Jesus returns; then we will be "present" with the Lord. Paul teaches this same message to the Thessalonians in a metaphor about sleep representing death. This teaching is in the context of instruction about what to expect on the day of judgment:

I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Verse 7

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

This verse is parenthetical because it is explaining the sense in which we are absent from the Lord. The contrast presented here is between "faith" (pistis) and "sight" (sight). The word "walk" (peripateo), as used here, means to "live" or "to act" (Bratcher 54); therefore, one option is to live by "faith" (pistis), that is, live by "religious truth or the truthfulness of God" (Strong 4102). Our faith in all of God’s promises about an eternal heavenly body will lead us to live according to God’s teaching.

Faith is believing fully and appropriating by obedience whatever God promises or says in regard to anything. Walking by faith is taking every step we make according to his directions (Shepherd 72).

If one decides not to live by faith, the only other option is to live by "sight" (eidos), meaning to live by man’s "appearance" (Alford 229), that is, by what appears to be right to man. When one lives in such a way, he follows the commandments of man; thus, he is spiritually absent from the Lord. Therefore, contextually, Paul is teaching that while we are in this body, we are absent from the Lord physically; but, being absent from Him does not necessarily mean we do not have the Lord in our lives. We maintain the Lord in our lives by "faith" and trusting in Him. We are absent from Him when we choose to follow man instead of Jesus.

Verse 8

We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

This verse resumes Paul’s teaching before the parenthetical expression found in verse 6 where he has taught the importance of living by faith instead of by sight. To be "confident" (tharrheo) means to "exercise courage" (Strong 2292). To be "willing" (eudokeo) means to be "pleased" (Strong 2106). The specific point of courage to which Paul refers is that as long as we have confidence that we are walking by faith and being obedient to God’s commands, we will be more willing to "be absent from the body," referring to death, so that we may "be present with the Lord." Paul teaches this message to the Christians in Philippi:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better (Philippians 1:21-23).

Verse 9

Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.

Paul’s loyalty to Christ is expressed in his conclusion that if we truly "labour" (philotimeomai), meaning to "strive" (through) "study" (Strong 5389), the Lord’s way that we will be "accepted of him." A Christian’s aim in life should always be to be "accepted" (euarestos) or "wellpleasing" (Strong 2101) to the Lord. The intended message of these words, therefore, is that upon Jesus’ second coming we will have lived our lives in such a way that we will be found well-pleasing to Him, regardless of whether He finds us in our earthly body or "out of the body," thus in our eternal body. Paul teaches a similar message to the Christians in Rome, saying, "Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s" (Romans 14:8).

Again, Paul teaches the same message to Christians in Thessalonica when he states, "Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do" (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11).

In other words, our daily living should be so that we will be able to say, as Paul declares:

According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death (Philippians 1:20).

Verse 10

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ: The importance of living our lives so that we will have total peace and confidence when Jesus returns is clearly taught in these words. The words "we all" have reference to those who have lived "good or bad" in reference to obedience to the Lord.

Regardless of the way we have chosen to honor the Lord in our obedience or not, "we must all appear before the "judgment seat" (bema), that is, the "throne" (Strong 939) of Christ." The word "appear" (phaneroo), meaning to "declare, or to shew" (Strong 319) a person’s actions, refers to the day of judgment when the lives of every person shall be made obvious to the world, and to themselves, as they have always been to God.

that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad:

The appearance of all at the "judgment seat," regardless if they are "good or bad," is for the same purpose: so that each individual will "receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done." In other words, on the judgment day, Jesus will judge every person according to his actions during his earthly life. This judging by Christ will reveal everything, and the judging will follow the same guidelines for all. Paul says, "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel" (Romans 2:16).

Paul teaches this same message in his earlier letter to the Corinthians:

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Verse 11

Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.

Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord: The word "terror" would have been translated better as "fear," for Paul is emphasizing the need for all to have the proper reverence and devotion toward God. "Terror" (or fear) (phobos) means "alarm" (Strong 5401), indicating there must be a proper fear of Jesus. This is not a fear that causes one to leave Jesus but to draw closer to Him with an "attitude of respect, reverence, and awe toward God" (Bratcher 56). This form of "terror" or fear is the type referred to by Solomon when he says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10). Contextually, since the previous verse is talking about appearing before the judgment seat of Christ, Paul here specifically refers to his knowledge that Jesus will judge all of us; this awareness fills him with an attitude of respect toward Him.

we persuade men: Paul’s desire is to "persuade" (peitho) others, that is, "to convince" (Strong 3982) them, to share the same fear or respect toward Jesus that he has, thus leading them to obedience. Fear, leading a person to learning God’s word and being obedient to it, will cause the church to grow as Luke records:

Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied (Acts 9:31).

but we are made manifest unto God: Paul does not want the Corinthian Christians to misjudge him; therefore, he emphasizes that just as he desires to persuade men to be obedient to the Lord, he also is obedient to the Lord. He wants them to know that God knows of his integrity, and He knows that his purpose in life is to teach only the truth of God’s word to others. In the following verses, Paul explains his reason for being obedient and for teaching others to be obedient to Christ when he says, "For the love of Christ constraineth us…" (5:14). His desire to persuade others to be obedient to the Lord does not suggest that Paul is always successful in doing so. The fact is, God knows each of our actions and thoughts because we are "made manifest" (phaneroo) to Him. In other words, every person is "render(ed) apparent" (Strong 5319) to God. God knows our actions "whether good or bad" (5:10). Nothing can be hidden from Him.

and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences: Not only does God know if we are "good or bad," Paul emphasizes here that he "trust(s)" (elpizo), meaning that he "expect(s)" (Strong 1679) or has a "hope" (Thayer 205-2-1679), that his readers’ "consciences" (suneidesis) are also distinguishing between what is right and wrong. If that is the case, they, therefore, will receive salvation with joy and full of confidence as he has. The "conscience" (suneidesis), if it has been properly taught the way of the Lord, will be "distinguishing between what is morally good and bad prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending the one, condemning the other" (Thayer 602- 2-4893).

Verse 12

For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.

For we commend not ourselves again unto you: The word "commend" (sunistao) means "to introduce" (Strong 4921). Earlier in this letter, Paul has said, "Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you" (3:1). It is not Paul’s intent in this verse to reintroduce himself to the Corinthians. They know who he is; they know what his message is; therefore, he is encouraging them to follow his teaching and to share his teachings about Christ when talking to others.

but give you occasion to glory on our behalf: Paul, here, is stating the same thing he did in the introduction of this letter: "As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1:14). Paul is talking about his motives in the message he is delivering. He is telling the Corinthian Christians to "glory" (kauchema), that is, "boast" (Thayer 342-2-2745), about him. This boasting is not to be understood in a negative sense but in a positive sense. He is not praising himself but is simply giving his supporters facts to use in defending him. Paul seems to be appealing to the Corinthians who have defended him from false accusations in the past. He is telling them that they know who he is and what he teaches; therefore, they are to "answer them" (kauchaomai) or "boast" (Strong 2744) about him and his message, in the sense of standing up for him.

that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart: Paul’s critics do not glory in him, but in themselves, that is, in "appearance" (prosopon) (Strong 4383) and "not in heart" (kardia), meaning "thoughts or feelings" (Strong 2588). Paul’s enemies gloried in those things that were outward. They took pride in things such as letters of recommendation, in their personal eloquence, and in their social standing and wealth. On the other hand, Paul glories in imitating Jesus Christ and sharing Jesus’s gospel.

Verse 13

For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.

For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: Paul is referencing statements that others may have made about him regarding his sanity. The expression "beside ourselves" (existemi) means to be "insane" (Strong 1839). He is saying, then, "Am I mad?" Paul was also accused of being insane when he recounted his conversion before King Agrippa:

And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness (Acts 26:24-25).

Obviously, Paul is not admitting to being insane: he is simply using the statement of his critics for the sake of argument in order to refute it. He responds to his critics’ accusation by emphasizing that if he is mad, it is for God’s sake. What his critics call madness, he calls his dedication to God. It is not uncommon, even today, for critics to sneer at those with whom they disagree and then accuse them of being absurd and irrational. Later, in this letter, Paul uses the same type of language, referring to himself as a "fool":

It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me (12:1-6).

or whether we be sober, it is for your cause: Instead of being insane, Paul’s claim is that he is "sober" (sophroneo), meaning he is "in right mind, i.e. sane" (Strong 4993), and his message about Jesus is true and is beneficial for them.

Verse 14

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:

For the love of Christ constraineth us: The genitive phrase "the love of Christ" means Christ’s love for us and not our love for Christ. The context will prove this fact because Paul ties it to Jesus’ death for mankind. John says, "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).

It is because of His death for us that Paul says that "Christ constraineth us." The word "constraineth" (sunecho) means "hold together" (Strong 4912). In other words, Jesus’ love for mankind should control our actions, just as it controlled Paul’s actions. Paul’s message is that since Christ loved him enough to die for him, His love holds him together to fulfill every task regardless of what his critics may think of him.

because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: Because of Jesus’ death, Christians "judge" (krino), that is, they are "of (the) opinion" (Thayer 360-2-2919)—they have reached the conclusion that—all men die spiritually. The forgiveness of our sins comes because Jesus freely gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins. Paul teaches the same message when he writes to the Hebrew Christians:

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man (Hebrews 2:9).

Verse 15

And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves: Here Paul explains not only that Jesus died, but that because He died, we understand that we no longer live for ourselves. "Selfishness is ruled out by our duty to live ’unto him who for their sakes died and rose again’" (Robertson 231).

but unto him which died for them, and rose again: We no longer follow our thoughts or our plans; instead, we obey the teachings of Jesus who died and rose again for us. The purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection is to lead us to eternal life. Jesus’ death without a resurrection would have been of no value. It would have been the same as God’s people today dying to sin but not arising to walk a new life.

Verse 16

Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: The word "henceforth" means "from this moment right now" (Bratcher 59), referring to the time that a person becomes a Christian. The idea presented in the expression "know we no man after the flesh" suggests that as a Christian we no longer think of religious matters from a human point of view; that is, "we do not form our opinion about anyone according to worldly standards" (Bratcher 59).

though we have known Christ after the flesh: By Paul’s admitting there was a time when he had "known Christ after the flesh," he refers to the period in his life when he based his opinion of Jesus purely on human reasoning. The Sanhedrin and other Jewish leaders viewed Jesus from the same point of view. This period of time would have been before Paul’s conversion to Christ—a time when he was fighting the church and looking for Christians to punish them. Referring to this time in Paul’s life, Luke says, "As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison" (Acts 8:3).

yet now henceforth know we him no more: Since Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road, his view of Jesus has been reversed. He no longer evaluates Jesus or Christians from a human standpoint. Luke records the events of Paul’s life leading to his conversion and his beginning to preach Jesus:

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, …And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do…And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized…And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God…But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ (Acts 9:1; Acts 9:3-6; Acts 18, 20, 22).

Verse 17

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: The conditional "if" is included to make an affirmation to teach about the conversion process: every time a person changes his life to "be in Christ," that is, he becomes obedient to Christ and belongs to Him, he abandons his old life and becomes "a new creature" (ktisis), meaning he becomes a new "creation" (Strong 2937). In order for one to be "in Christ," he must be baptized. Paul, writing to the Christians in Galatia, says, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).

His life becomes new. It is as though his life begins again. Paul teaches the same message to the Christians in Rome:

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:3-11).

old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new: Since one’s life starts over when he becomes a follower of Christ, his old way of thinking and acting "pass away" (parerchom), meaning his past actions totally "perish" (Strong 3928). As a new creation, his thinking and acting change in obedience to Jesus’ teaching. Bernard quotes Stanley’s explanation of this phrase:

Paul’s words show how completely he regarded the Death of Christ as a new epoch in the history of the human race. Had he foreseen distinctly that a new era would be dated from that time; that a new society, philosophy, literature, moral code, would grow up from it over continents of which he knew not the existence; he could not have more strongly expressed his sense of the greatness of the event than in what is here said (72).

Verse 18

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ: When the changes occur from the old creation to the new creation, they are not designed by the man who leaves his old way of living. The changes come to the "new creation" because they are "reconciled" (katallasso) to God, that is, their mind has been changed and, therefore, they become obedient to God. From the time a person becomes a child of God – a follower of Jesus – "all things are of God." His desire is to make the changes that are God ordained because it is God who "reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ." God is the author of this plan to reconcile man by Jesus. The message presented here deals with a relationship between man who has no relationship with God to one who, through Jesus Christ, is restored to God.

and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation: Paul explains that winning the lost to Christ has been committed to him and other apostles. The expression the "ministry of reconciliation" proves that man’s being reconciled to God is not from God’s action only. Man is not forced to obey God; he is not forced to be reconciled to God. Rather, he must accept his responsibility to comply with God’s teaching because of this "reconciliation" (katallage) or this "restoration" (Strong 2643).

Verse 19

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself: "To wit" means "that is" (NKJV). Paul is essentially repeating what he says in the previous verse; however, he is explaining it in a more precise way by proving that God and Christ are working in agreement to reconcile those in the world who are lost to God.

not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation: The word "imputing" (logizomai) means to "take an inventory" (Strong 3049). God does not keep an account of our "trespasses" (paraptoma), that is, man’s "fault(s)" (Strong 3900) simply so that He may punish man. God’s desire is for man to be saved; therefore, God’s knowledge of man’s sins is to provide forgiveness from those trespasses through the death of Jesus. Paul tells the Christians in Rome the same message when he says, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).

Verse 20

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ: "Ambassadors" (presbeuo) "act as a representative" (Strong 4243) of Christ. In this context, Paul refers to himself and other apostles who have been sent out by Jesus to spread His gospel of salvation. The apostles are authorized to teach only the message of the One they represent—Jesus Christ.

as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God: Paul explains in no uncertain terms that the apostles do not go into the world to teach their message; instead, he says, "God did beseech you by us." God does not want man to be lost; therefore, His desire is for the apostles to teach His message of salvation through Christ. With the apostles’ being described as "ambassadors" when they speak, they are speaking in Christ’s stead, as if Christ were actually doing the speaking. Therefore, the plea is to be reconciled to Christ and to do it now.

Verse 21

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin: Jesus did not commit sin; however, for man’s salvation, God made Jesus "to be sin for us." In other words, God personified "sin" in the form of Jesus. "God treated as sin the one who knew no sin" (Robertson 233). The Apostle Peter, speaking of Jesus, declares:

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth (1 Peter 2:21-22).

that we might be made the righteousness of God in him: God personified sin in Jesus specifically "that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." God does not desire man to be lost in sin. His desire is for man to be brought to a state of "righteousness" (dikaiosune) or "justification" (Strong 1343). God’s intent, His purpose in sending His Son to die for mankind, was to give sinful man the opportunity to become righteous.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/2-corinthians-5.html. 1993-2022.
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