1:12-21 Paul had intended to visit the Corinthians, but events caused him to change his plans (1:15-16). Apparently some had criticized the apostle for this, accusing him of operating by human wisdom (1:12) or in a worldly fashion (1:17). But Paul explained his conduct, insisting that his conscience was clear and that he had acted with godly sincerity and purity toward them (1:12). Paul wasn’t the fickle type. He didn’t indecisively say yes and no simultaneously (1:17-18). Instead, he sought to follow God’s will; therefore, the answer was always yes in Christ. Furthermore, Jesus Christ—whom Paul proclaimed—is the fulfillment (the yes) of all God’s promises (1:19-20). Paul’s message and ministry were characterized by consistency and a Christ-centered focus.
5:1 When Paul speaks of our earthly tent, he’s talking about our physical bodies. When this life on earth is over, and our bodies return to dust, life has only just begun. Eternity awaits! And for those who trust in Christ, God has an eternal dwelling prepared for our incorruptible resurrection bodies—something Paul had previously explained to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor 15:35-57).
5:2-5 In fact, Paul says we groan in our present tent, because we long for our heavenly dwelling (5:2). According to Ecclesiastes 3:11, God has “put eternity in [our] hearts.” Though we operate in time, we ache for what is everlasting because God created us to last forever. He made us for this very purpose (5:5). We do not want to be unclothed but clothed is Paul’s way of saying we don’t want life to end but desire our mortality to be swallowed up by life (5:4). How do we know God will follow through on his promise to grant believers eternal life? Because he has given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment guaranteeing what is to come (5:5).
Every human being is rapidly headed for eternity, whether he or she realizes it or not. So, are you living your temporal days in light of your eternal destiny? Approach your every decision and maximize your earthly time by living from an eternal perspective.
5:6-8 While we live in our earthly bodies, we are away from the Lord (5:6) and have not yet realized the fullness of the glory that will be revealed to us when we are taken into God’s presence. Paul’s preference was to be at home with the Lord (5:8). But until that day, he exhorted the Corinthian believers, we walk by faith, not by sight (5:7).
As the apostle said previously, “We do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:18). Thus, we must live based on what God’s Word teaches us to believe instead of on what we can see. We walk by faith, trusting that God is telling the truth. Though we can’t see the eternal realities that he has promised, we act—living heavenly in a hellish world—because we are confident in him.
5:9-10 Regardless of his circumstances, Paul’s aim was to be pleasing to the Lord in all aspects of his life (5:9). For he knew he would have to give an account for his life as a believer. Indeed, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (5:10). The Greek word translated “judgment seat” is bema. In the ancient world, it was on a bema that a ruler or person with authority would sit to render judicial decisions. Paul, for example, stood before the judgment seat (or “tribunal”) of Gallio in Achaia when the Jews made charges against him (see Acts 12–13).
One day every Christian will have to stand before Christ’s bema to have his or her faithfulness (or lack thereof) evaluated and recompensed. Believers will be granted or denied rewards based on whether or not they have lived for Christ. There will be no hiding on that day. And there will be no actions in your Christian life that will be overlooked. Therefore, knowing that everything “good or evil” will be repaid, how do you want to spend the few days allotted to you?
5:11 Given that he would appear before the judgment seat of Christ, Paul lived in the fear of the Lord—that is, he took God seriously. He was earnest about the ministry God had given him, so he sought to persuade people to believe in King Jesus and submit their lives to his kingdom agenda. He was confident that the integrity of his ministry was plain to God, and he hoped that his method and motivation were also plain to the consciences of the Corinthians.
5:12-13 Paul insists that he is not commending himself to the Corinthians but instead giving them the opportunity to be proud of the authentic nature of the ministry he and his companions were carrying out on behalf of the church. Some among the Corin-thians were boasting in outward appearances, but Paul made it clear that one’s heart motivation is what matters (5:12). Whatever Paul was accused of, he assures them that his actions were for God’s glory and their edification (5:13).
5:14-15 Paul is compelled by the love of Christ for sinners. Since Christ died for all people (a reference to unlimited atonement), then all died—that is, the penalty for all sin has been paid by Christ’s sacrifice (5:14). Thus, the barrier between God and people has been removed, and Paul wants all people to hear, believe, and receive that good news of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. Further, if Christ gave his life for us, then our lives are no longer our own. Rather than living for ourselves, then, we ought to live for the one who died for [us] and was raised (5:15).
This is what Paul was doing, what he wanted the Corinthians to do, and what is missing in the lives of many Christians today. The Son of God suffered the wrath of God to purchase our eternal destiny in glory. What greater privilege is there than serving him during our brief pilgrimages on earth as our loving response to his overwhelming love for us?
5:16 In light of these eternal realities, Paul confesses that he no longer knows anyone from a worldly perspective. In other words, Christians are not to evaluate people based on mere physical appearances like age, gender, or ethnicity but based on their eternal destinies. Similarly, we don’t evaluate Christ from a worldly perspective. He is no mere crucified first-century Jewish man; rather, he is the risen Savior and King who is seated at the right hand of the Father. We must see and evaluate things according to their heavenly, spiritual realities—not their mere earthly, physical, racial, and temporal appearances.
5:17 If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. If you are a Christian, you have been born again of imperishable seed and share in the divine nature (see John 3:3; 1 Pet 1:23; 2 Pet 1:4). God has brought about a spiritual transformation inside of you, and your identity is tied to your new birth. You are no longer who you once were: the old has passed away. Therefore, you are called to live in accordance with your new identity.
5:18-20 All of this newness is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ. And as those who have been reconciled to God, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (5:18). In other words, every believer has a mission—the same mission—to tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ. Thus, we are ambassadors for Christ. An ambassador is an officially designated representative who is authorized to speak in a foreign land on behalf of the country by which he was sent. Therefore, we must speak faithfully for the one who sent us. Since we are Christ’s ambassadors, God is making his appeal through us (5:20). We are to share the message of reconciliation, urging all sinners to be reconciled to God because, through the atoning work of Christ, he is not counting their trespasses against them (5:19-20). There is no more glorious news to be proclaimed!
Scripture declares that God wants “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). God the Father desires that all people would hear and understand the gospel so that they may have the opportunity to believe for eternal life. The Son of God died on the cross to make this possible. But he isn’t coming down from heaven to do the witnessing directly. Instead, he has committed the message to us. Our job as his ambassadors is to carry out that mission and proclaim that message to the world.
5:21 God the Father made his Son Jesus Christ who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. By his glorious grace, God offers human beings the deal of a lifetime. As a result of our sin, every human being owes a debt to God that he or she can’t repay. Our sin demands God’s eternal judgment. Yet, “because of his great love that he had for us” (Eph 2:4), God acted on our behalf. As Paul says, “The one who did not know sin became sin for us.” The sinless Son of God became our substitute on the cross: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24).
Yet that’s only half the story. Although that addresses our sins, we still have a lack of righteousness to commend us to God. So, in exchange for our sins, Jesus offers to give us his perfect righteousness—that is, when we place our faith in him, he credits our spiritual bank accounts with his own perfection. The theological term for this transaction is imputation. When you believe in Jesus as your substitutionary atonement, your sin is imputed (or credited) to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to you. This is the glorious exchange that the gospel offers to everyone who will receive it. And this is the good news of which we are ambassadors.
6:1-2 The false apostles who were leading some astray in Corinth had been preaching “another Jesus” (11:4) and were Jews (11:22). So they may have been affiliated with the “Judaizers” that Paul addressed in Galatians, those who were telling Gentile Christians that they had to keep the Mosaic law in addition to believing in Jesus. Since Paul urges the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in vain (6:1), it may be that these false teachers were telling them to focus on keeping the law by their own self-effort, rather than relying on God’s gracious provision to live the Christian life (see Gal 3:1-5). Paul quotes from Isaiah 49:8 to emphasize that the day of salvation has arrived (6:2). Today, we must operate in light of God’s grace if we are to maximize the salvation we have received.
6:3-5 Paul puts himself forward as an example for the Corinthians to follow. He didn’t worry about protecting himself but sought to protect his ministry from accusations (6:3). As God’s ministers, he and his coworkers were representatives of the Lord. So Paul wants to commend his ministry (6:4) and avoid anything that would compromise it and bring spiritual ruin to the lives of others—as many false teachers were doing. Paul lists a series of hardships that he had endured on behalf of his ministry (6:4-5), demonstrating that he was willing to suffer many intense afflictions to honor Christ and see lives transformed for his kingdom.
6:6-10 After listing the adversities he faced, Paul lists the qualities necessary for this kind of faithful ministry. Paul’s service to the Lord and his people was marked by purity . . . patience . . . sincere love, and was fueled by the Holy Spirit . . . the word of truth . . . the power of God (6:6-7). Next Paul lists nine pairs of paradoxes that he experienced. These include glory and dishonor . . . unknown, yet recognized . . . having nothing, yet possessing everything (6:8-10). Through his personal character, the divine affirmation of his work, and his spiritual successes in spite of adversity, Paul’s apostleship was validated.
6:11-13 Paul had not operated in secret among the Corinthians. He had kept nothing from them but had always spoken openly with a heart like an open book (6:11). His ministry was nothing if not authentic and characterized by affection. In contrast, the Corinthians were the ones withholding affection from Paul. So, like a father to his children (they were, in fact, his spiritual children, having been converted under his preaching), he pleads with them to display the same commitment to him that he had to them (6:13).
Paul is an authentic and powerful example not only for all church leaders but for all church members as well. Those who serve in positions of leadership ought to have a deep love for those under their spiritual care. Likewise, the congregation should have warm affection and respect for their leaders who will one day “give an account” to God for the souls of those whom they serve (Heb 13:17). Without this two-way openness, it’s difficult for those within a church to care for and protect one another spiritually.
6:14-18 Quoting from several Old Testament passages for support (6:16-18), Paul exhorts them not to have intimate fellowship with unbelievers. Some of the Corinthians were doing this with the Jewish false teachers who were opposing Paul and sowing discord in the church. To become partners with can also be translated “be unequally yoked” (6:14). The idea comes from Deuteronomy 22:10, in which the Israelites were commanded not to have “an ox and a donkey” plowing together. What’s true among animals is true among humans. Close relationships or partnerships between believers and unbelievers result in an unholy union. After all, what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (6:15).
Whether it’s a romantic relationship, intimate friendship, or a business partnership, such compromise negatively affects your intimacy with God. When you align yourself with those whose beliefs and lives are far from God, you’ll find God distancing himself from you too.
7:1 Therefore, in light of the promises of God’s nearness—“we are the temple of the living God” (6:16)—Paul urges them to cleanse themselves of impurity (through illegitimate partnerships with unbelievers) that may have hindered their sanctification process. Instead, they should be serious about their relationship with the Lord by living in the fear of God.
7:2-4 Regarding any accusations or rumors that the false apostles had made against him, Paul reiterates that he has not wronged or taken advantage of anyone and pleads with them to open their hearts to him (7:2). He quickly explains that he and his coworkers are not attempting to condemn the Corinthians. Their hearts are filled with affection, pride, and joy over them in spite of the afflictions suffered (7:3-4). The false apostles were to blame for the unrest they had caused.
7:5-11 Paul had experienced turmoil, unrest, and fears when he arrived in Macedonia because he had still not heard from Titus regarding his previous letter to the Corinthians (7:5; see 2:12-13). But God provided him with great comfort by the arrival of Titus, who brought good news of how the Corinthians had repented of their previous attitude and had disciplined the man who’d opposed Paul (7:5-7; see 2:1-8).
God often comforts his children through their fellow believers (see 1:3-7). In his providence, he will bring people alongside those experiencing conflict who can offer a sympathetic ear and speak words of truth and encouragement. So when you see a brother or sister in Christ suffering, don’t pass up the opportunity to be used of God to bring them comfort that perhaps only you can provide.
Even if Paul had grieved the Corinthians with his letter, he knew it had been worth it because of the positive spiritual results (7:8). Their grief led to repentance followed by a godly zeal for Paul (7:7, 9). Paul distinguishes between godly grief and worldly grief—the former leads to repentance while the latter leads to death (7:10). Worldly grief is what Judas experienced after he betrayed Jesus. He knew he had sinned and was filled with remorse, but he was unwilling to repent (see Matt 27:3-5). In contrast, Peter experienced godly grief after denying Christ. This led to his repentance and recommitment to the Lord, resulting in his spiritual restoration (see Matt 26:75; John 21:15-19).
7:12-16 The Corinthians’ response to what Paul wrote provided them with the opportunity to demonstrate their own devotion to him in the sight of God (7:12). This, in turn, comforted Paul and his companions (7:13) because it validated the Corinthians’ faith and their desire to walk faithfully before God.
Titus had been a key player in bringing harmony between the Corinthian church and Paul. The apostle had boasted of his confidence in the Corinthian believers, and he was not disappointed by the results (7:14). Titus had been refreshed by them and grew in affection toward them because of their obedience, and this brought much rejoicing to them all (7:13, 15-16).
Notice how both Paul and Titus experienced joy over, encouragement from, and affection for other believers because of their obedience to God. How does the obedience or disobedience of your fellow believers affect you? Are you grieved when they stray from the Lord? Are you willing to intervene as Paul did and have a difficult conversation so that they might be moved to godly grief and repentance? When they honor God through their obedience, do you rejoice and praise God? Kingdom disciples care deeply about the reputation of their King and the welfare of his people.