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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. [An allusion to the merging of the tabernacle into the temple of Solomon. As the Spirit of God dwelt in the frail tent during the pilgrimage in the wilderness, and afterwards took up his abode in the substantial and immovable temple in the midst of an established city, so the spirit of man sojourns in a tent-dwelling--a mortal body--while on his journey to the new Jerusalem, but at the journey’s end he shall have a "house not made with hands;" i. e., not this present, material body which seems almost within the compass of human construction, but a spiritual body which is utterly beyond it (comp. Mark 14:58). Hence it is also spoken of as "from heaven," to distinguish it from this present body, the substance of which comes from the earth. The present tense "we have" is used, not because our spiritual bodies now exist in organic form (a mechanical view), but to give vivid expression to the certainty of our receiving such bodies (comp. 2 Timothy 4:8); and perhaps also to indicate that in divine contemplation and plan our future bodies are growing and taking form according to the daily growth and development of our inner man.]

Verse 2

For verily in this we groan [Romans 7:24; Romans 8:23], longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven:

Verse 3

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

Verse 4

For indeed we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened; not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life. [The apostle here expresses two wishes, suited to either contingency which confronted him. If he survived till the Lord’s coming, he longed to be clothed with the spiritual body which the redeemed shall then receive; and expressed the hope that if he survived to that day he would be found clothed in that body, and not be left naked as an outcast (Revelation 3:18). If, on the other hand, it was his lot to die before the Lord came, he wished for the full consummation of God’s purpose. He had no desire to be a disembodied spirit, but he wished to pass through that state to his final spiritual body; just as a seed might say that it did not wish for the germinal death, but was ready to pass through that stage in order to reach its future as a new plant. Paul did not long for divestment, but for the superinvestment of immortality, the swallowing up of the carnal by the spiritual, as in the case of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). "The transition of figure from building to clothing is very easy, for our clothes are but a tighter house. One is a habit, the other a habitation" (Whedon).]

Verse 5

Now he that wrought us for this very thing is God, who gave unto us the earnest of the Spirit. [God designed man for such superinvestment, and hence placed in him the longing or groaning for its accomplishment. As an infallible guarantee that the longing should be satisfied, he has given to the redeemed an earnest of the Spirit. Having given unto us of his own Spirit, it is a light thing that he should give us the spiritual body (Romans 8:32).]

Verse 6

Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord

Verse 7

(for we walk by faith, not by sight);

Verse 8

we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. [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 2 Corinthians 5:4; the spirit is with Christ, as we are here informed. Though Christ is with us now while we are in the flesh, yet we walk by faith and have no perception of him. After death we have a spiritual perception of his presence, as Paul’s language indicates; but it is only at the resurrection, when we are fully incorporated in our spiritual body, that we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2), and know as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). The disembodied state, though inferior in happiness to the resurrection glory, is yet preferable to our present state. Though such a condition may be lower than the highest heaven, yet it is "home" and "with the Lord."]

Verse 9

Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto him.

Verse 10

For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad. [Paul’s aspirations caused no laxity as to duty. He tried to so live as to please Christ now, and also when summoned before him; i. e., he strove to please Christ whether conscious of his presence or not, realizing that all his deeds would come to public and open manifestation and judgment. In thus outlining his own course, the apostle gave a salutary warning to his enemies that they should follow his example, and also gave them a tacit notice that, no matter how ill they might use him, they would still find him sustaining the conflict with untiring zeal.]

Verse 11

Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest unto God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. [Knowing therefore what reason there is to fear displeasing God, we do not court his displeasure by abandoning our ministry because men misjudge and slander us, nor by letting our ministry lose its force and power through our indifference to the good opinion of men concerning us; but, on the contrary, we continue in our ministry, and patiently persuade our opponents of our sincerity and integrity when we assert (2 Corinthians 5:9) that our sole ambition is to please God. But we do not need to persuade God in this matter, for our hearts are known and manifest to him, and I trust that they are also in like manner manifest to you by reason of this apology which you have caused me to make.]

Verse 12

We are not again commending ourselves unto you, but speak as giving you occasion [literally a "starting-point," or, in warfare, "a base of operations"] of glorying on our behalf, that ye may have wherewith to answer them that glory in appearance, and not in heart. [In thus speaking of his manifest righteousness in the sight of God and the church, the language of Paul might be construed as boastful and self-commendatory. To prevent such a misconstruction he tells them plainly that his purpose is to draw a contrast between himself and his opponents, a contrast which Paul’s friends in Corinth might use with telling effect when contending for the superiority of the apostle. Paul’s opponents gloried in those things which were outward, or which made an external show, taking pride in their letters of recommendation, their personal knowledge of Christ in the flesh, their learning and eloquence, their intercourse with the original apostles, their Hebrew descent, circumcision, etc. Paul, on the contrary, gloried in the vital religion of the heart, in that moral and spiritual imitation of Christ which is well pleasing to God, and which delights in the thought that it is constantly manifest to God.]

Verse 13

For whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you. [Paul could not appeal to the approval of his character in the sight of God without bringing to his own mind and the mind of his readers the striking difference between the manifestations of divine communion, inspiration, etc., which characterized his own life, and the dry, barren formalism which characterized the lives of his critics; yet he well knew that if his friends gloried in those things wherein his life touched upon the divine, his enemies would sneer at them as mere evidences of insanity and madness. To answer this sneer the apostle sets forth his whole life in its two grand divisions or forms of manifestation, viz.: his insanity and sanity. That which his enemies knew as the insane part of it was wholly devoted to God, and that which was generally recognized as the sane part of it was wholly devoted to the church, and at this time especially directed toward Corinth. Hence it appeared that in neither department of his life was there any room for self-seeking. His friends therefore could answer his enemies thus: "Viewed in one aspect, Paul’s life is wholly devoted to the glory of God, and viewed in another it is utterly sacrificed for us and our salvation. It is evident, therefore, that having but these two ends in view, he can not be seeking self-exaltation." Paul’s opponents looked upon his madness as commencing with his conversion, and in their eyes his ecstasies, visions, revelations, trances, inspiration and mystic intercourse with God and Christ were conclusive evidences that his mind was unbalanced. But the very nature of the phenomena showed a character void of all self-seeking. Paul’s sanity consisted in his sound judgment, forbearance, tact, consideration, charity, etc., in the handling of the churches as is displayed in all his epistles. It is true that in this field the apostle maintains his dignity and authority, but in every instance where he does so, it is for the obvious purpose of directing and benefiting others, and not with any design to exalt himself.]

Verse 14

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died;

Verse 15

and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again. [Paul’s life was devoted to Christ, and to man for Christ’s sake. When tempted to swerve from either of these services, Christ’s love for him confined him within the limits of the life of sacrifice which he has described, and which he regarded as prescribed for him by the Lord. His reasons for regarding this life as prescribed for him grew out of his view of the death of Christ. He regarded the death of Christ as representative. As Christ had died as the head of the race, therefore all men had died with him to their sins, and so were obligated to lead self-sacrificing, unselfish, sinless lives for the sake of him who, on their behalf, had died and risen again. Compare Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 5:4; Galatians 2:19-20; Colossians 3:3]

Verse 16

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

Verse 17

Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new. [By his spiritual participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul had become a regenerated man, and as such he refused to judge or look upon men after that carnal, superficial, unregenerate method which estimates them according to outward appearances, and not according to their inward spiritual life. In asserting this great principle he is reminded that before his conversion he had known and judged Christ after this carnal fashion. The allusion suggests that if he made a woeful mistake in thus doing, his enemies were even now following in his footsteps in thus judging him, a minister and servant of Jesus Christ. Christian men, being spiritual beings, are to be judged as such. The old standards of the law can not be applied to them; they are not to be accepted because they are children of Abraham, nor rejected because they are Gentiles. To them all things are become new, and they must judge and be judged by the new environment into which the providence of God has brought them.]

Verse 18

But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation;

Verse 19

to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. [Christ’s love, I say, constrains me to sacrifice for men, and to persuade them when they grossly misconstrue me, and to seek reconciliation with them when they fight against me. For the whole dispensation under which I work is from God, and is an effort on his part to reconcile his human enemies unto himself. When I myself was such an enemy God reconciled me, and gave to me the work or ministry of reconciling others; so that I am obliged, both by a sense of duty and of gratitude, to proclaim to man that God sent Christ to reconcile the world to him through the forgiveness of those trespasses which made them fear and hate him; and that I may not fail in this sacred office I am likewise obliged to persuade men that this ministry of reconciliation is committed to me.]

Verse 20

We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God.

Verse 21

Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him. [Wherefore, I have no choice in the matter, but must meet enmity with persuasion and an effort at reconciliation; for if men attack me I am not a free and independent man, but an ambassador to Christ the Reconciler; and if they attack my ministry, lo, it also is not mine, but is Christ’s ministry of reconciliation; so on Christ’s behalf I am constrained to seek reconciliation, not with myself alone, but with God. And surely my appeal is not without weight, for it has the constraining power of the love of God--a love manifested in God’s gift of his sinless Son, who was made sin for us that we might be reconciled to God by attaining the righteousness of God in him; i. e., by virtue of our union with him as part of his mystical body.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/2-corinthians-5.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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